Rock 'n' roll and ridiculous outfits have long gone together " just like peanut butter and bananas. Just ask the king of rock 'n' roll Elvis Presley, who started his career in outlandish pink-and-black suits and ended it in elaborately beaded, caped jumpsuits. Most good bands " at least before grunge's tattered jeans and flannel made rock into a neverending Casual Friday " wear something that acknowledges that they are on stage and you are not, from the Supremes' matching wigs and gowns to Porter Wagoner's Nudie suits to Bret Michaels' lace-up-the-side red vinyl crotch-huggers. Still, there are some bands that take costuming to a higher level, and in the spirit of Halloween, here are a few of our all-time favorites. KISS: Parents and other members of the Establishment had already been frightened for years by rockers' weird hair and weirder clothes. Why not strap up with spikes and leather and paint their faces to look like grinning harlequins of black-winged debauchery and danger? The lesson of KISS, of course, is to keep it up once you start. When they went clean-scrubbed, nobody really cared.
Sun Ra's Arkestra: On the planet Saturn, elaborate, psychedelic Egyptian-themed robes and headdresses are de rigeur for members of the Angel race, particularly when bringing cosmic free jazz to the outer reaches of the spaceways. George Clinton, with his multicolored Muppet dreads and loud, sartorial choices, should get an honorable mention in this category. Sun Ra set the standard that fans could depend on, as proved by Parliament Funkadelic and Arkestra spinoff Michael Ray and his Cosmic Krewe " black men from outer space in shiny costumes make great music.
Gwar: Gwar's over-the-top sculpted costumes made them look like mean Vikings from Fraggle Rock as they churned out blanketly offensive shock rock. Extra points for the elaborate stage show in which they often drenched front-row ticketholders in fake bodily fluids.
Daft Punk: Nobody really knows if it's the same duo of synth-pop-friendly Frenchmen from one Daft Punk show to the next, because they never take off their full-face robot helmets. Never. Thomas Bangalter and Guy de Homem-Christo could be hanging out at a bar while their plumber puts on a skinny leather suit and plays a show.
Los Straightjackets: Viva la lucha! It must be uncomfortable, not to mention pore-clogging, to play set after set of complicated surf guitar zipped into a snug Mexican wrestler mask, but the stout caballeros of Los Straitjackets do it with gusto.
The Mummies: The legendary underground garage rock act from San Francisco played bombastic, frankly obnoxious garage rock in the mid-'90s that included both R&B covers like 'Land Of A Thousand Dances" and originals with titles in questionable taste. The band also did it " for whatever reason " wrapped in tattered bandages.
Beyond those top six, there are plenty of honorable mentions available in the costume contest of the music world. The alleged space aliens and cosmonauts of Man Or Astroman don NASA-inspired jumpsuits to blast off into rockness, a dress choice almost certainly inspired by the famous coveralls of Devo, whose odd-tiered hats deserve pride of place in the annals of rock 'n' roll millinery. The band Servotron, who claimed to be robots with a disdainful view of their human fan base, dressed the metallic part. Currently, there's a band in Seattle (called Steaming Wolf Penis) whose drummer wears a papier-mache monster head that comes nearly to his waist.
New Orleans, of course, has its own costuming tradition for bands: the annual Masked Band Ball. It started at the Mermaid Lounge 12 years ago as an opportunity for local acts to unashamedly play cover sets of their own favorite groups' oeuvres. This year, the show features appearances from faux versions of the White Stripes, Hall and Oates, U2, Judas Priest, John Philip Sousa and others yet to be determined.
- Jim Graham
- Los Straightjackets put a stranglehold on rock.