By Stephen Holden
Indie rock, alt-cabaret, new burlesque: Whatever you call it, the jolly musical comedy of the Skivvies, a troupe of entertainers who perform in their underwear, joyfully rocked the house at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Saturday evening. Like Joe Iconis and Family, who also regularly play the club, the Skivvies are devoted to the concept of strength in numbers and an artistic community in which everyone is more or less equal, and show business is communal play. Watching them, I was reminded of the Tubes, the traveling rock circus that had its moment in the sun in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Wielding instruments as if they were toys, the Skivvies’ leaders Nick Cearley (“All Shook Up”), who played the ukulele, melodica and guitar, and his mischievous curly-headed partner Lauren Molina (“Rock of Ages”), on electric cello and kalimba, treated the stage like a glorified sandbox for grown-up children. With their fellow musicians, Nathan Ellman-Bell (drums and percussion), Andrew Gutauskas (winds and brass), Eli Zoller (bass, mandolin, guitar) and Natalie Tenenbaum, they played jet-propelled, humorous mash-ups of songs from near and far in an accelerated jug band style.
The Skivvies arrived onstage wearing red-and-white-striped pajamas, which they quickly shed; as the leadoff song in the opening medley proclaimed, “It’s getting hot in here.” Mr. Cearley and the musicians began parodying the moves of strippers but with erotic provocation played down.
“Alcomedley,” led by a grinning, comically glassy-eyed special guest, Lesli Margherita, packed together fragments of 17 drinking songs, including “99 Bottles of Beer” and “Margaritaville.” “S&Mashup,” sung by Leslie McDonel, clad in bondage gear with a fake black eye, compressed shards of songs like “Beat It” by Michael Jackson and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar into a barbed spoof of kink.
An inspired song pairing was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Alexander Hamilton” and Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” Ms. Molina, shrieking crazily, demolished Britney Spears’s “Toxic.” The “Seeing Blind Medley,” featuring Christopher Hanke, was the evening’s comic epiphany, the title “Suddenly Seymour,” from “Little Shop Horrors,” broken into the pun “see more.” The cheerfully pornographic “Hardbody Hoedown,” whose video brought the Skivvies YouTube fame, sounded downright wholesome.
The Skivvies are paradoxically sophisticated and innocent. Like Joe Iconis and Family, they tempt you to rush back to childhood and forward into the future at the same time.