If you enjoy a good night out on the town and avoid knowing how sausage is made, don't read veteran bouncer Robert Fitzgerald's Clublife: Thugs, Drugs & Chaos at New York City's Premier Nightclubs. The 2007 book opens the door to the back room, where entertainment's being made and cash extracted from willing patrons. Even this far from NYC, it's an eye-opener; you'll never see a club or commercial music venue quite the same way again.
I mention this because I'm certain that not only does Gene the Werewolf know how the sausage is made, this Pittsburgh-based group puts on a show that both demonstrates how it's done and makes you eat it.
Altar Bar was nearly packed for a recent all-local showcase, headlined by Donora and Gene the Werewolf. I sit through an opening set that's kinder not to describe, declining the Jell-O shots proffered on trays by circling waitstaff.
Eventually the lights come down, and Gene, dressed in his trademark white suit and sunglasses, opens with a glammy piano ballad, pleading, "put my face on the cover of your magazine." The rest of the band soon joins him, charging into upbeat rockers that hint at ELO and J. Geils, perhaps even Wild Cherry funk-pop.
Believe it or not, Gene -- real name: Jon Belan -- played in the relatively earnest pop-punk band Punchline. Here, backed by a full-on laser show, his shtick verges on David Lee Roth: He pulls open his shirt and flicks his nipples, mid-verse. "I just want to make love ... to Altar Bar!"
A weird reflexivity happens between the band and venue, as a female bartender struts along the top of the bar, pouring a bottle directly into patrons' mouths. It's gross. Gene and company, meanwhile, pull audience members onstage for a contest: Who can down three kamikaze shots in a row ... the fastest? Also gross, but somehow hilarious. A girl stumbles offstage; I think she won.
When people let their hair down at a club, primed with Jell-O shots and kamikazes, lasers beaming overhead, what do they want to hear? Michael Jackson, obviously. As Gene heads into the homestretch with a funky bass line, I scribble in my notebook, "Another song, sounds kinda 'Thriller.' Oh wait, it is 'Thriller.'"
I can't say how much is earnest, how much tongue-in-cheek. But there's no denying that Gene's giving people exactly the good time they want ... and, if you look, showing you how.
For more info, visit www.genethewerewolf.com.