An introduction, by Jesse Farrell: When a rock band asks you to go on tour, unless there is a compelling reason not to – like, the bass player is eight months pregnant and a junkie – you go. My friend Marty is the lead singer of an unusual rock trio called Uncle Monsterface. Last month he told me they were going on tour, and also asked if I could come along. I’m not a musician, but in Uncle Monsterface, that’s not always a drawback. Their sound, as they will proudly tell you, has been described as a cross between They Might Be Giants and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. They have a lively stage show which incorporates film, animation, elaborate backing tracks, and, most famously, a coterie of sock puppets. The puppets are led by the band’s namesake, a nearly seven-foot-tall, green-headed, avuncular presence who has been spotted dancing and running around many a venue. More than just a mascot, Uncle Monsterface is the avatar of everything the band represents: the power and joy of childhood exploding all over a dirty and compromised adult life.
As an evening's entertainment, it’s hard to forget.
So I made plans to spend the first two weeks of March traveling around the country with Marty and the Monsterface dudes, packed in a van with their tourmates Harry and the Potters. The Potters are two real-life brothers who appear as Harry, year 4, and Harry, year 7, and perform songs entirely about Harry Potter and his years at Hogwarts School. It might sound silly, but this simple, brilliant idea has brought them success most working musicians can only dream of. When a group of screaming teenage girls meets the Potters, what erupts is the kind of visual shorthand you see in movies when the director wants to signal “teen sensation.” The Potters were graciously letting Uncle Monsterface open for them and gain access to their already-huge audience.
I set out on this tour with two promises to myself: Be open and expect nothing.
Do everything with good intentions.
Another introduction, by Harry and the Potters: As we prepare for departure, we find that we are beginning to feel like a real rock band! We have a van now. Not one of those cool mini-vans, but a real-deal gigantic beige van with like 17 seats or something. We even got a big lightning bolt sticker for it, but it’s been too cold in Boston for us to actually apply the scar to our van’s hood. We’re also really excited because for the first time ever, we’re touring with another band! Our friends Uncle Monsterface have puppets and monsters and animated prairie dogs and blow-up instruments, and if life has taught us anything it’s that puppets and monsters and animated prairie dogs and blow-up instruments are pretty fun.
A look at the Major Players, by Marty Allen: Harry and the Potters are Harry and Harry Potter, years four and seven, undoubtedly brought together by some sort of magico-time anomaly. They are also Joe and Paul DeGeorge, respectively. Despite their ages, real or imagined, they’re old hats at the road, and as touring wizards, they are sayers of many sooths. For instance, “Wear protective footwear in strange showers.” (Joe). Uncle Monsterface is a snaggle-toothed sock puppet with an elusive, lovable, and startlingly man-sized alternate personae. The guys who play the “music” (a term we use very loosely around here) in this “band” include: (Perfect) Jimmy Bernardinelli on the rock keytar and off-color humor; (Paradise) Daniel Brennan on the rock guitar and drunken-dad humor; and Marty Allen on the jumping and yelling. The rockers are accompanied by Mr. Jesse Farrell, Uncle Monsterface’s personal assistant and lead puppet-handler extraordinaire, along with a bagfull of mostly ornery sock puppets and several towering dancing prairie dogs. The real Uncle Monsterface rides in a separate car.
Day One:Put your hand inside the puppet head
Day Two:Harry takes a guitar in the mouth
Day Three:Through the wire
Day Four:The Chili Bowl and other stories
Day Five:Night Raleigh
Day Six:What we did on our day off
Day Seven:Bombing Athens
Day Eight:One way ticket to Hell . . . and back
Day Nine:Totally sticking it to the man
Day 10:All men play on 10
Days 11 and 12:Penultimania
Day 13:The thrilling conclusion