The members of Steve ‘n’ Seagulls have taken a slice of viral stardom and turned it into a full-blown, barn-dance style, foot-stompin’, retro hootenanny.
The band entered to the blaring sound of the Bonanza theme song. Wearing the same overalls and crazy hillbilly hats featured in their multiple viral videos on Youtube, the Finnish rockers burst forth with fun, energetic Bluegrass covers of rock classics.
The arrangements are fast and joyful. Metal and grunge riffs and solos are not merely approximated on banjos, mandolin, stand-up bass, and acoustic guitar, but rather given new life and, for what it’s worth, new excitement.
Steve ‘n’ Seagulls is a standout example of the unique avenue to artistic success provided by digital mediums. The group started their career as something of a lark, posting strange videos on social media. But their formula is strong and effective, their enthusiasm is genuine, and their talent is undeniable.
Taking familiar songs from a generation ago, the hits of AC/DC, GnR, and others, and turning them on their head, Steve ‘n’ Seagulls emote great energy, good intentions, and spirited enthusiasm. But the real reason Steve ‘n’ Seagulls are successful instead of a joke is that they are good.
Of course, it is gimmicky. The members hail from Finland, arguably the metal capital of the world, but their Bluegrass-hillbilly-redneck schtick comes off as a tongue-in-cheek ode to all things Americana. They’ve gone beyond simple parody.
The sincere passion they exhibit is infectious. During the more recognizable covers played during the set, the audience was stomping and cheering as enthusiastically as if they had seen the originators of these songs in a full-on arena-rock setting. The online videos are entertaining and funny, but the electrified club show, including a full drum set and amplified instruments, is genuinely exciting.
There is also something in the delivery. These songs of angst and rebellion have been assimilated into our culture, and now are adored talismans of nostalgia, cherished by those who remember videos on MTV and mix tapes made from diligent radio cultivation.
Steve ‘n’ Seagulls has filtered out much of the anger, replacing it with appreciation, respect, and mirth. When lead singer Remmel yells, “I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem,” during their cover of an Offspring classic, you don’t get the impression he’s angry about it.
Likewise, when Hiltunen, wearing a fur hat and overalls, makes his metal face during an accordion solo, you don’t even think twice about what you are seeing. This is just where we are as a culture, and it’s not a bad place to be.
Sure, maybe it’s a one-joke routine. Maybe the combining of seemingly incompatible elements into some new mutant isn’t authentic creativity, per se. But it’s fun, and the internet (or an evening at the Turf Club) could absolutely be used for worse endeavors.
To be sure, it is a strange show to witness, and an even stranger cultural phenomenon to contemplate.