When we learned drummer Jon Fishman (Phish) scheduled his musical comedy side project, Touchpants Monday night at The Parish before his “other band” was slated to play the Austin360 Amphitheater Tuesday, we hardly knew what to expect. Was this going to be a revelation like Tenacious D or akin to Macaulay Caulkin’s ill-advised Pizza Underground? The answer was both. Lowbrow, often offensive shock humor was tempered by what amounted to a killer jam act anchored by Fishman’s clock-like precision timekeeping. Colby Dix handled lead guitar (and some vocal) duties while his comedy partner Chris Friday delivered smarmy lead vocals. Bassist, Aram Bedrosian rounded out the Vermont foursome.
Prior to the performance we chatted with Chris Walsh, owner of Burlington venue Nectar’s (Phish’s first home and the launching pad for Touchpants). Walsh explained the idea was to poke fun at all aspects of touring band life. That was evident from the pseudo-feces stained shorts for sale at the merch table. “It’s all about the annoying band merch people who tell us ‘we HAVE to have the table RIGHT here under these lights’ because that’s where the money is.” If anyone paid for a pair of fake soiled underwear last night, we would like to know about it.
Without a support act to open, Touchpants kicked off an epic three hour set with Take a Sh*t in Your Hands and F%#k It. With a song title like that, fans grasp immediately their sophomoric humor is not going to get more tasteful as the set continues. Friday hammered that point home by brandishing a giant plastic dildo with a mic fastened to the base of the fake phallus while wearing a 70’s-style baseball shirt embroidered with the words, I LIKE IT BIG AND BLACK. The exceptional music made the bawdy humor barely palatable which is the point, to push fans out of their comfort zone while lampooning tour culture. The ploy certainly grabs the attention of the audience. The relative absence of crowd chatter was noticeable.
Dix demonstrated impressive dexterity on both electric and acoustic guitars, mimicking every genre imaginable while Bedrosian occasionally slipped in funky bass riffs that had us wondering if these were red-headed step-siblings of the members of Phish. Quite frankly when they were good, they were really good. Of particular note was an extended jam during the song, “Mushroom Tattoo.” The 30-minute plus song included a humorous interlude during which Dix warned the audience the band was just halfway through the song. Though he was smiling, the man was not mincing words, nor holding back on soaring, incendiary solos partly inspired by Phish guitar-god Trey Anastasio. Before the song was over, Friday donned a head-mounted stuffed penis and testicles and thrust it into the vagina plush hat he had secured to Dix’s head while the man shredded his solo.
The pair predictably downplayed Fishman’s presence with humor, at one point cutting the legendary drummer off before he got too far into a solo. Dix kept the pressure on Fishman, mocking his lack of use of the vocal mic set up at his kit. The teasing was good natured and you could see the quartet relishes performing together.
Both Dix and Friday used toilets as stools to sit on while they performed. The sight gag drew wan smiles but a recurring bit that has Dix wandering into the crowd to read bawdy, insulting poems to females has drawn criticism from less amused people like a Burlington women’s studies professor who lobbied Nectar’s to take the raunchy band off their schedule. Frankly the ironic humor of Dix’s gag (he called all 9 women he read to, Tammy) was enough to win over most fans even if his comparisons of women and dump trucks offend some. The band wrapped a song with a silly counting chorus to the bit to soften the blow. It worked for most fans even though Friday jokingly warns that no one should listen to their music.
Touchpants are working on a second album, Straight Outta Cumpton due out later this year. The band has four remaining tour dates:
August 12, 2015 – Ardmore Music Hall – Philadelphia, PA
August 16, 2015 – The 9:30 Club – Washington, DC
Sept. 3, 2015 – Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom – Denver, CO
Sept. 4, 2015 – Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom – Denver, CO