How long can a band sustain a running gag? Well, if you're GWAR, you can probably make a two-decade career out of it. But in the goth-industrial scene -- a community that tends to be moody and grim -- even the witty onstage banter of filkster Voltaire pales in comparison to the übermenschen of cyberpunk comedy acts, Hanzel und Gretyl.
Shaking off the ashes of the forgettable Sony Records metal blip Cycle Sluts from Hell, the statuesque Betty "Vas" Kallas joined forces in New York City with the self-proclaimed Kaizer von Loopy (rarely seen without his helmet and aviator glasses) to chew on a hilarious concept: Industrial dance music sounds like a blitzkrieg of brutally efficient machines anyway, so why not just pretend to be Germans from outer space while you're playing it?
The ploy worked. HuG's first two releases on the now-defunct Energy Records struck a chord in the PVC-and-fishnets subculture, even as the pounding beats and metallic guitars heralded a crossover sound bringing the group to the attention of audiences already following Marilyn Manson and Prong, not to mention KMFDM and Rammstein (who, being actually German, were unwittingly the targets of the parody). HuG's only Pittsburgh appearance so far was at Oakland goth mecca Club Laga for their Transmissions from Uranus tour, 11 years ago.
But Kallas and Loopy were only getting warmed up. Teaming with the label that became the dominant force in darkwave, Metropolis Records, they turned up the metal quotient gradually. By 2004's Scheissmessiah, the guitars were so crushing that not even Ministry could ignore them any longer as a powerful opening act über alles.
The newest HuG release, 2012: Zwanzig Zwolf, takes the duo's universe-spanning saga to a curious level of New Age absurdity. If their story is to be believed, in the apocalyptic Mayan calendar year, fans of the band will be drawn to a huge concert in the center of Chichen Itza, where one of the pyramids will be revealed as a secret spaceship that will take the band and its followers into the sun. Everyone will burn up, and the Earth will perish in flames, but Vas and Loopy will survive, of course, due to their amazing superpowers, and will be transfigured into a higher dimension.
Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Well, we have a few years to see whether that will really happen. In the meantime, songs like "Number 1 in Deutschland" (which samples Nazi crowds) and "Heil Hizzle Mein Nizzle" beg the question of how much Third Reich symbolism a band can appropriate for a few yuks before some skinheads take the lyrics too seriously and start bashing heads with their "Fukken Über" Doc Martens. Of course, HuG is merely bringing together, with a sophisticated graphic presentation, all the elements that industrial bands have touched upon: Throbbing Gristle with the SS lightning bolt; Laibach with its Teutonic anthems; and Death in June with the Totenkopf, not to forget perennial post-punk icons Joy Division and New Order. So I sincerely doubt that HuG would condone such reprehensible activity.
But I'm sure they wouldn't mind you stomping the hell out of the dance floor.
Elise's Playground presents Hanzel und Gretyl with The Living Dead, Agnes Wired for Sound and DJ Dale Cooper. 8 p.m. Sat., June 21. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave, Millvale. $13 ($15 day of show). 21 and over. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com