Ask Nick Avila of Powerglove to describe his ultimate, bank-breaking show, and expect a prompt answer. After the faintest pause, the bassist of this tongue-in-cheek power-metal act starts discussing the elaborate set dressing of a This Is Spinal Tap sequel. "We'd want to come out of giant [Super] Mario pipes that were on fire. That'd be the first step," he says. "We have a Powerglove mascot — an evil crazy magician called Zebediah. We'd want him [as] a giant balloon, like Pink Floyd's giant pig flying over the stage." Either Avila has a knack for improv, or these are ideas he and his bandmates have already pondered.
Powerglove can't touch Roger Waters' production budget yet, but that hasn't stopped the band from putting some entertaining visuals together. Among other props, the members built a 10-foot-tall non-airborne Zebediah, which breathes fog and is decorated with flashing lights. Recently, they brought in Donuto, a standee of an anthropomorphized, man-eating doughnut coated in a delicious layer of sprinkles and pink frosting.
This is absurd, silly stuff you'd expect from a band that is, well, absurd and silly. Powerglove's repertoire consists of covers (typically instrumental) of themes and tunes unearthed from corners of '80s and '90s pop culture. The Boston band built its name revisiting music from videogames like Killer Instinct, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and the myriad Final Fantasy incarnations, but as the recent album, Saturday Morning Apocalypse, evidences, they're also into TV shows (The Simpsons, Pokémon) and movies (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1989's Batman). The four-piece's rich, tightly wrought metal sizzles, devising new sonic segments to flesh out the originals, but the band's additions are more about fun than showmanship.
This is far from the world's first or only videogame music cover band — so how does Powerglove give aging, frequently instrumental songs enough personality to separate itself from other bands that also do competent covers? The answer involves dressing like low-budget warriors, endlessly engaging the crowd, and embracing the visual pageantry of Zebediah and friends. It's gimmicky, but it works.
Powerglove's self-mocking origin story jells well with the band's tongue-in-cheek shtick. Its members were once in a melodic death metal outfit called Revengeance ("Which is, yeah, a very stupid name," Avila cuts in. "We are aware."), and started Powerglove as a lark of a side project in 2004. One Mega Man cover got enough positive feedback online that they decided to go all in on the new band, and a few false starts later, Powerglove was touring with established, comparatively sober groups like DragonForce and Symphony X.
The band's search for songs to cover involves several parts. First, the members consider the multitude of requests they receive. Then they throw out names of tunes they grew up with, to figure out what would translate well into metal. Final selection is based on whether they can get the rights to a song. For Saturday Morning Apocalypse, Powerglove was able to secure songs from two Disney properties, but the rights to rework a third track — "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid — were not granted. (Guitarist Chris Marchiel described part of the band's working vision for the song as "basically DragonForce puking a rainbow into Blind Guardian's asshole.")
The members' original costumes came together in far more haphazard fashion. They visited a Halloween store and picked up "the most random clothing we could find," Avila says. Today, they sport outfits by Ktron, a costume designer known for working with GWAR, which brings up another salient detail. "We love GWAR to death, but they were not who influenced us to wear the costumes," Avila says. Instead, it was Japanese visual kei (glam-style) bands like Malice Mizer and Versailles, whose members go all out on the stylistic getups (Malice, for one, goes historical) and immerse themselves in their characters. "The more you start wearing the costumes, the harder it is to do without it," the bassist adds. "At this point, I need the costume to put on the show."
But Powerglove's music is itself all about the show. Bygone decades are remembered for their most striking pop-cultural spawn, and the band's covers predominantly strive to rekindle a youthful warmth for an audience mostly made of adults — and of course, for the members themselves. "We all played videogames and watched cartoons on a pretty much full-time basis when growing up, so these songs are basically our cultural heritage as well as our childhood memories," Avila says. "This is our strange version of folk music."