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Incredibly Strange Superheroes!: on a mission to rock

Friday, January 03, 2003

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Few local bands have shown the dedication to high-concept entertainment value unleashed in the bizarro universe ruled by the Legion of the Incredibly Strange Superheroes! -- a band whose CD cover is a mock-up of a comic book; whose members, led by Capt. Not U.L. Approved, kick out their vintage jams in campy superhero costumes; whose motto is, as always, to serve ... to protect ... and to rock.

As the Captain explains their quest, "It's just so nice to have something that isn't angry at the world or angst-ridden 'cause this is futile nonetheless. Any local music is futile. But this is at least knowing that it is, and having fun with it."

That fun can range from covering a Devo song to hosting dancing robot contests during, as you may have guessed, "Them Dancing Robots."

The Captain explains, "We have these huge cardboard refrigerator boxes done up like robots, and we basically ask people if they will dare to be transformed into lifeless machines from human beings. And most of the people go for it."

Another song they're working on, he says, was made to be performed in stomp-o-rama, wherein the band members cover the dance floor in bubblewrap and have the people on the dance floor stomp along.

"So that's kind of funny," he says> "Just goofy [stuff] like that. A lot of bright colors, bells and whistles. There's some pretty decent music there, as well, but music's music. To me, it's kind of like the stuff you listen to. You need an activity. It's like a child. You need an activity for someone to do, and you need to give them something bright and flashy to look at. So we really go for a primal instinct as far as entertainment goes. It's pretty much third-grade level, but people love it -- because most of the entertainment industry is around a second-grade level."

It's the sort of entertainment that inspires members of the audience to act as though they're in the band.

Among the bells and whistles of your average Legion set is the point at which a member of the audience is invited to play the theremin on "Thereman," which is essentially the "Batman" theme -- only now there's an actual Thereman.

As the Captain reports with a laugh, "We have one guy who shows up in a Thereman costume. He's that adamant about it. So it's kind of hard to turn him down when he shows up with his space helmet and his spaceman gear. It's hard to shun."

Another fan would show up at the gigs and draw the band. So they compiled his drawings and released them with an instrumental version of the album as a coloring book.

"I started collecting them," the Captain says. "And then, I figured, you know, what would be a funny idea is to mix our whole album without any vocals and package it with a coloring book and crayons and call it 'Instrumental Music to Color the Legion of the Incredibly Strange Superheroes By.' I thought it was a clever title. It would fit on a marquee. Or several marquees."

The version with the vocals doesn't come with crayons or coloring book, but there are buttons featuring the cartoon likenesses of the Legion -- the Emerald Enema, Dr. Outerspacicus, The Mighty Flam, Miss Turrie and the Captain, whose full name, Capt. Not U.L. Approved, is derived from the suit of lights he's been wearing on stage.

"Electric lights," notes Dr. Outerspacicus, the band's guitarist, "like the orchestra."

Sales are brisk, despite the Captain urging people not to buy it.

"The beauty of it," he explains, "is that it cost about $7 to make and we sell it for $5 so we tell people not to buy our CD because when they do, we lose $2, which seems to make people want to buy it all the more. Most bands don't make money, but we really strive to do our best to lose as much as we can. This way, it gets the message to the people."

There are people, as you may imagine, who resist the message, but the Captain does his best to wear them down.

"I usually spot people in the crowd who have that almost-like 'I don't believe in Santa Claus' look," he says, "and I make an example of them. I single them out and say, 'You know, believe it or not, you can go out and enjoy yourself and not really worry about anything other than the moment and just enjoy something ridiculous with a good dance beat.' And I've never seen it backfire, 'cause I will keep on these people until, you know, they either turn around or leave. And no one's left. There's some people who maybe pretended to get it and stuck around just because everybody was looking at them. But that's the great thing about it."

Even the music, he says, is not the sort of thing most people listen to.

Until they see the superheroes.

"People that I wouldn't expect would like this kind of music like it," he says. "It's that '60s kind of garage-y, kind of surf, kind of roots-rock thing. And it's very easy to get people's attention with loud and angry. It's a little bit of a trick to get someone's attention with something absurd and silly. They might not think it's as cool or as sophisticated. And it's probably not. But so what?"

The Legion's performance Saturday night at Club Cafe is its last with bassist Miss Turrie.

As the Captain explains, "Miss Turrie is being deployed on assignment, and we're having Mr. E come in and take her spot."

On April Fool's Day, the Captain himself is leaving town.

And this is not a hoax, which means that if you haven't seen them yet, your time is running out.

The Captain, he explains, "will be deployed on a mission out to the Pacific Northwest where the evil music empire is running rampant. We fixed Pittsburgh, you see. Pittsburgh is all on the up and up now. I arrived in this town April Fool's Day two years ago, so this is pretty apropos. It's almost like a two-year deployment. I consider Pittsburgh to be an amusement park you get paid to visit. It really is, as far as things to do, and club owners have just been nothing but gracious and appreciative of something outrageous and fun."

Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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