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Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Electric Mayhem Online Concert By Nicholas Napoli

My fondest electrical, musical, childhood memory finds The Electric Mayhem rockin’ up high in a tree, singing alongside a bunch of birds. Who were these strange hippies? Why were they so important to the adult Muppet family? I hated them, in my mind they were taking valuable screen time away from my favourite main Muppet Babies turned adult, I was about four at the time.  

My actual first introduction to The Electric Mayhem was during The Muppet Movie, when Kermit and Fozzie park their Studebaker outside an abandoned church. They, is, are and be, they whom as are known as The Electric Mayhem. Golden teeth and golden tones, I was welcomed into Dr Teeth’s presence. I learnt Floyd Pepper played bass, Janice was lead guitarist, sax was Zoot’s act and Animal ate drums. I was glad to see Animal amongst this group of strangers and was soon both delighted yet concerned when Scooter introduced himself as the band’s road manager but where was Skeeter? What did she do now that she was a grown up? Where was Rowlf? Bunsen and Beaker? Why was this Floyd fellow in charge of Animal? Janice resembled Skeeter a lot, but was not Skeeter, what was the point? Why create Janice and exclude Skeeter in the process? Little did my Muppet brain know at the time, Muppet Babies came far later than The Muppet Movie. 

The Great Muppet Caper found The Electric Mayhem playing secondary characters, that’s the way I liked it, that’s how I felt comfortable, I enjoyed them, yet I was truly hating Janice, for in my mind, she had replaced Skeeter. The Muppets Take Manhattan mainly focused on a small group of characters, consisting of The Electric Mayhem and excluding Bunsen and Beaker, by this point I had lost all hope for Skeeter, I assumed she was dead. I hated these musicians, at age four I had no idea they were a band who would consistently perform together for the next twenty-eight years of my life. A band I would eventually attempt to travel half way across the world, hoping to catch their debut live concert, sadly I missed it. Luckily The Electric Mayhem had their first live concert and it was electrical but at that moment in time, this was still twenty-five years away. 

After watching the first three Muppet movies, I found myself still disliking The Electric Mayhem. Yes, they were there but they were featured more prominently than I would have liked them to have been. They were taking time away from my grown-up Muppet baby characters, I was introduced to the Muppets through Muppet Babies, in my mind this came first. Before The Muppets Christmas Carol hit theatres in 1992, I continued hunting down Muppet video at my local video rental store. During this time, I was also introduced to The Muppets playhouse video series, A Muppet Family Christmas, A Muppet Celebration of 30 Years, The Muppets At Walt Disney World and with time, I warmed up to The Electric Mayhem. I had also become aware that on some occasions The Electric Mayhem sometimes had a sixth member, two characters took on the role of the sixth member. A yellow Muppet (Lips) and a purple Muppet (Clifford), one of which has recently returned back to The Electric Mayhem as their official sixth member. I wonder if a seventh member might ever make his way back to the band? 

That was how I was introduced to The Electric Mayhem; however, this band of musical mayhem were first introduced to the world in 1975 on The Muppet Show pilot, Sex and Violence. They continued performing together throughout The Muppet Show’s five-year run. The Electric Mayhem also appeared prominently in the first three Muppet movies, countless specials and to my surprise I even learnt Janice had made a handful of appearances on Muppet Babies, I was rully cool with her now. 

1992, I was six years old, I had never been so excited in my life, this was the first Muppet movie I was going to watch in the cinema and from what I had seen advertised, Kermit and Miss Piggy had babies of their own! I was excited to see all my favourite Muppet Babies all grown up, with kids of their own. I was also excited for the first time to see The Electric Mayhem take on a big role in a Muppet movie, as I had become accustomed too. Sadly, by the end of the movie, I came to realise The Electric Mayhem, along with many other of my favourite characters only appeared once briefly. I was devastated, little did I know then that both Jim Henson and Richard Hunt had passed away, many of their characters had still not found their worthy replacement performers to take over. In the case of The Electric Mayhem, Jim Henson performed Dr Teeth and Richard Hunt performed Janice, why all five went quiet always baffled me. Four years later The Electric Mayhem once again appeared briefly in Muppet Treasure Island. By this time, I was ten years old, I had internet now, I knew the reasons behind the absence of many of my favourite characters. 

Jim Henson created Dr Teeth, Richard Hunt created Janice, Jerry Nelson created Floyd, Frank Oz created Animal and Dave Goelz created Zoot. Steve Whitmire created Lips and Kevin Clash created Clifford, I came to realise that each main performer had their own new character to add to the ever- growing band of madness. During the 90’s most of these characters lost their creators either by death, retirement or involvement with other projects. For a long time, the only original members left of The Electric Mayhem, was ironically Zoot and to a degree Lips, the two who barely ever spoke. Zoot and Lips were the remaining original voices of The Electric Mayhem for a very long time, action needed to be taken, if this band were ever going to perform together again, can you picture that?

In 1999 the Muppets returned to theatres for a third time in the 90’s but this time there were many new changes to look forward too. Not only were the Muppets playing themselves again, but many classic characters were being brought back too and with speaking roles! When I finally watched Muppets From Space, Kermit was sitting at the breakfast table when The Electric Mayhem walks past. Dr Teeth opens his mouth, he was about to speak, the excitement for that moment alone was worth buying the DVD, since I didn’t have a DVD player, I ended up buying that too, but it was well worth it. Dr Teeth said “shalom” and continued to walk off screen, it was fantastically short! It was still worth a decade of waiting; The Electric Mayhem were slowing making a comeback. 

In the early 00’s the band was officially reunited, recast and ready for their big comeback. Janice finally spoke in 2002 whilst tuning her harp, in the Christmas television movie, It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, after remaining silent for over ten years. Finally, by 2004, The Walt Disney Company purchased The Muppets from The Jim Henson Company, now safely knowing that The Electric Mayhem had reunited. In 2005 The Electric Mayhem made their grand full return performing together for a pig of a witch in The Muppets Wizard of Oz. As the years continued The Electric Mayhem, who had now all found their voice again, were kept on the side-lines, they weren’t even allowed to deliver letters to Santa in 2008, they planned a holiday instead. It wasn’t until 2011 that The Electric Mayhem not only reintroduced themselves in full force but also introduced themselves for the first time to a whole new generation of groupies. 

Dr Teeth is now performed by Bill Barretta, he has brought Dr Teeth to life now for the past twenty years, ever since his debut as the good doctor back in 1999. Eric Jacobson not only brought Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Sam the Eagle back to fans but also took over as The Electric Mayhem’s wild drummer. Matt Vogel has taken on Floyd Pepper and has brought new life into the character and David Rudman brought back to life, the member who had been missing in action the most, Janice returned in full swing. Ironically now that Steve Whitmire no longer works for The Muppets, this means Zoot is the last remaining original member of The Electric Mayhem. The Electric Mayhem were finally properly reintroduced and fleshed out as characters in the 2015 series The Muppets. The Electric Mayhem were the house band for Up Late with Miss Piggy, they developed their personalities and spoke more in one season, than they had in the last twenty years. They went on a road trip together alongside Kristin Chenoweth, helped try and pierce Scooter’s ear and even revealed a past romance between two band members, a romance that didn’t make Floyd very happy. 

Thanks to the help of their original and new performers, The Electric Mayhem had finally made it back to the top, everybody knew them by their individual names and not solely as The Electric Mayhem. I was excited, would we soon receive our long overdue The Electric Mayhem plush set? Did the future hold a Diamond Select Toys Dr Teeth and Zoot 2-pack action figure set? Was Lips about to start having actual conversations? Sadly, The Muppets were not renewed for a second season and the momentum behind the long well-deserved rise to fame for The Electric Mayhem seemed doom to fade away. Luckily, this talented group of performers gave new life to the over forty-year-old band and because of them, The Electric Mayhem began becoming its own brand, even going as far as performing their first live concert at Outside Lands in 2016. 

The Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival had the honour, of having The Electric Mayhem perform at their music festival, for over twenty minutes. The Electric Mayhem performed to a sold-out crowd and to make the event even more spectacular, they performed in full body. That must have been amazing to watch live. As their bio describes them, The Mayhem, as they are known among Mayhem-heads, features: Dr. Teeth – Keyboardist and head groove master; absotively possolutely the founder and fearless leader of the band, Animal – Dynamic drummer and powerhouse percussionist, known for three styles of play: loud, louder and deafening, Janice – Lead guitarist, resident flower child and astral projectionist, Sgt. Floyd Pepper – Bass guitarist, Animal’s handler and connoisseur of cool, Zoot – Shade-wearing saxophonist who doesn’t say much and Lips – Trumpet virtuoso known for his jazzy brass and talking even less than Zoot. 

I was determined to make it to their next concert, sadly they still haven’t held a second one. Luckily, they did perform live again the following year, at The Muppets Take The Hollywood Bowl and then again the year after when The Muppets took the 02, I was lucky to see them perform there. A band I hated at three years old, were now performing before my eyes at age thirty-one, it was well worth the wait. Seeing The Muppets, experiencing a live Electric Mayhem performance, if that doesn’t get you dancing, nothing will. If you ever get the chance, make sure you watch The Electric Mayhem perform live, their gentle morning melodies will attract all wondering admirers.

The last time The Electric Mayhem performed live on stage was as recent as 2018, what highlight of a performance could we expect of them in 2019? At the moment, all we know to get excited about, is a hopeful, potential, new Muppet show on Disney’s new streaming service. Will The Electric Mayhem continue to flesh out their personalities as they did in The Muppets (2015)? I hope so as that was one of the highlights of this show for me. Hop onto the psychedelic Electric Mayhem bus and dare it drive us towards a bright Happy New Electric Mayhem 2019! 

- Nicholas Napoli

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