The most fun you can have in your clothes on TV
Most of the best-known modern “metal” bands play what can be best described as angry pop music with distorted guitars, and there’s an important reason for that: Actual metal resonates with too much vitriol to stick in a casual social setting.
Metal isn’t party music. You can pogo hop to it, you can mosh to it, but you can’t dance to it.
Except for on community access TV, where all things are possible.
On the cable set in Somerville in August, Elsa Riot is doing her damndest to sync up an impromptu rendition of the herky-jerky Beach Blanket Bingo routine with a ruthless sonic pummeling by way of a group of apparent Motörhead adherents. Riot—a staple of Boston’s burlesque scene—looks happy, whereas members of the band PanzerBastard, a staple of Boston’s metal scene, look angry. There’s little to no rhythmic or visual cohesion happening here. A few feet away, a man in a red rubber demon mask punches the air and bounces merrily in place.
On the surface, none of this makes sense. Yet it becomes rational once you explore the context—in fact, if you glimpse the bigger picture, the scene crosses the threshold into galaxy-brain logic.
The aforementioned demon individual is Ken McIntyre, the co-creator and host of this so-called Heavy Leather Topless Dance Party, a weekly music-comedy-performance hour that launched on Somerville Community Access Television (since renamed Somerville Media Center) in 2016. Beneath the baked-in zaniness you would expect from a Wayne’s World-meets-Vampira Show amalgam with no budget, Heavy Leather and like-minded operations serve a practical—perhaps increasingly important—cultural function.
“The reason we started this show is because Strange Fuzz tried to burn down O’Brien’s,” McIntyre tells DigBoston. He’s not totally kidding. According to Vanyaland, the garage rock trio tried to ignite a bass guitar during a set at the Allston club, and in all fairness, that’s not quite the same as purposefully trying to destroy the building. In any case, McIntyre, who has been doing TV and radio in this town since forever, says the genuine (and warranted) controversy surrounding Strange Fuzz at the time inspired him to launch a new show for the specific purpose of featuring “the most dangerous band in town.” Co-creator and director-producer Stacey Dawn, on the other hand, clarifies that a project in the vein of Heavy Leather was in the air well before that fateful night; perhaps Strange Fuzz lit the spark, but the metaphorical guitar was already soaked in gasoline.
As seems inevitable in retrospect, creative differences forced Strange Fuzz to part ways with the program, and the comparatively less insane Black Leather Lagoon took over as the Heavy Leather house band. Apart from that small change, it’s been a productive few years. Since 2016, with help from assorted crew members, McIntyre, Dawn, longtime co-host Stacy DC, and more recent co-host Riot have cranked out 84 episodes syndicated through community access stations across Mass. That means the total number of acts—musicians, comedians, dancers, fashion designers, magicians, a contortionist, a spirit medium, and at least one stunt dog—featured on Heavy Leather is into the hundreds.
But anyone with a phone can make a show now! So you say? Weren’t you also the guy who told us vinyl records wouldn’t make a comeback? In any case, McIntyre tells us that technology has yet to neutralize the psychological and emotional boost one experiences while being on TV. Also, the future looks uncertain for the independent venues in the region, and a day may come when it’s preferable to get booked on Heavy Leather than on a stage in a nonexistent club.
For obvious reasons, the “topless” aspect of the show’s title is mostly figurative. There’s too much camaraderie and professionalism afoot for much genuine, deliberate sleaze to unfold at Heavy Leather. Still, accidents happen. They’re on at 10 pm instead of 8:30 nowadays due to a wardrobe malfunction that was too slight to notice during production but that caught the ire of their cable overlords. If the incident prompted the gang to relax, they’re not saying so in public. In fact, they’ve said the opposite.
“We never know if we’re going to be in trouble or not,” McIntyre says. “’Cause if you go, ‘Hey, can we light the drums on fire this week?’ Of course they’re going to say, ‘No.’ But if you light the drums on fire, and then they say, ‘Never do it again,’ at least you lit the drums on fire one time.”
Words to live by… as long as they aren’t taken literally.