In May 2018, NBC’s America’s Got Talent featured a band of middle-aged men in drag performing the Spice Girls’ hit song “Wannabe.” Ultimately, they were rejected, but one of the judges on the show, former Spice Girl Melanie Brown, gave a standing ovation and admitted to enjoying the group. “I thought you were great!” she shouted.
“To be fair, you sounded a lot better than the original” hissed fellow judge and resident douchebag Simon Cowell.
“Our appearance on America’s Got Talent was a huge boost for us,” Mike Muellenberg says. “I think [the producers] wanted it to be more of a poke at Melanie Brown. But that was a
Formed in 2016 and led by longtime San Diego-based, OC-born musician Muellenberg, a.k.a. Harry Scary Spice, the Spice Pistols perform Spice Girls songs (and a handful of originals) à la the Sex Pistols, generating buzz in the Southern California music scene with their outrageous and, as Muellenberg puts it, “very theatric” live shows. The 56-year-old musician says the concept for the band came to him after some discussions with female friends on social media. “I just saw myself doing that in drag, playing those songs like that, and I was literally laughing hard at this image of myself in drag onstage,” he says.
Muellenberg talked to some fellow musicians, and before he knew it, a band was born. “I sought out friends I have played with, some that I haven’t, and we created individual roles in the band,” he says. “Spice Pistols is much more theater than music, but don’t get me wrong: We are dudes who can hold our own and play our instruments well.”
Combined, the members—performing under the monikers Harry Scary Spice, Ginger Binger Spice, Slosh Posh Spice, Shorty Sporty Spice and Maybe Baby Spice—have at least a quarter century’s worth of stage experience. “I needed people who could come together and put the music together quickly and work on a stage show,” Muellenberg says. “But we’re also grown men comfortable enough with our sexuality to be in full drag onstage.”
After studying the music of the Spice Girls, the band found it to be easy to translate into punk rock. And with society’s unbridled ’90s-pop nostalgia these days, there are plenty of people looking for an excuse to don their Dr. Martens once again. They swapped the saccharine synths and infectiously cheesy harmonies of “Say You’ll Be There” with pounding drums, screaming vocals and crunchy guitar. “We were able to save the melodies and bring in punk-rock aggression and speed, and it works so well,” Muellenberg says.
So far, the Spice Pistols have one album of recorded material, which includes three interpretations of Spice Girls songs. Among the many guest musicians, Muellenberg says, is local guitar hero Rikk Agnew (the Adolescents, Christian Death, etc.). “We have played around OC, and Rikk has played with us—three shows so far,” he says. “We are getting contacted all the time by bands that want to play with us. This has been unbelievable how well this band has been received; I never expected it to take off like this.”
Muellenberg says his main objective with Spice Pistols is to offer not only something different, but also thought-provoking entertainment. “This is a performance and very theatrical; we are all playing characters onstage,” he says. “Everyone’s reaction has been awesome so far; people are digging it. [At] the shows we play, more people are filming us than checking social media, so that’s good!”
The Spice Pistols plan to play gigs and tour as much as possible. Their next OC show will be at the Doll Hut in Anaheim, and they’ve booked spots in the San Diego/Oceanside area.
“We have actually gotten a lot of exposure in the U.K. through social media, and I was recently contacted by a promoter, so I am in contact with a few companies, actively trying to get us a tour over there in the next few months,” Muellenberg says. “We are also planning a southwest U.S. [tour] later this year as well. . . . We want to break our inner circle of the San Diego area and play all over LA, OC and the Inland Empire.”
Spice Pistols perform at the Doll Hut, 107 S. Adams St., Anaheim, (562) 277-0075; www.worldfamousdollhut.com. Feb. 16, 7 p.m. $10. 21+.
Alex Distefano is an established freelance writer and music blogger from the Los Angeles area. With over a dozen years under his belt as a published Journalist, he covers the worlds of heavy metal music, punk rock, current events, cannabis culture, comedy, radio, food, tattoos, the paranormal, and ‘conspiracy theories.’ He graduated from California State University Long Beach in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in both Journalism and Ancient History. Aside from his professional writing endeavors, Distefano works as an Educator, and delivery/rideshare driver.