Mike Stephens is the only person in MacKenzie's Chop House who's wearing a bright red wig, matching leather pants, and a silver polyester shirt with kabuki dancers dangling from ribbons.
Like a cracked actor whose personality has been taken over by the character he's playing, the local musician is doing a rare daytime impersonation of David Bowie, the glam icon whose music he's playing as part of this year's Monsters of Mock shows.
Jeff Fuller, who's been moonlighting from his duties with El Toro de la Muerte to perform an Elvis Costello tribute, keeps a perfectly straight face as Stephens slips into character for the benefit of the approaching waiter.
"Sir, you can't smoke in here!" pleads the distraught server as his customer heedlessly thumbs a disposable lighter.
The next time the waiter appears, the mock rock star has just returned from the bathroom with a conspicuous dusting of white powder on his upper lip.
When the bill arrives, the musician asks the waiter for his name, then scrawls a personalized — and entirely unsolicited — autograph.
Fuller is used to Stephens' antics. Since high school, the two musicians have collaborated in various bands, most notably Against Tomorrow's Sky. And Fuller is currently producing the debut album by Stephens' newest band, Men of Deep Throat.
Through the years, they've also put together bands for their annual Monsters of Mock tribute shows, performing impressively well-rehearsed sets as the Cure, Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, the Cars, Tom Petty, and the Rolling Stones.
Between comic interludes, Stephen returns to his affable and accent-free self, as he and Fuller discuss the pros and cons of tribute bands in anticipation of 2013's fourth and final show.
Indy: So how did this all get started?
Mike Stephens: Well, before Jeff and I started doing this, I'd done Poison up in Denver, where they had yearly Monsters of Mock shows that would sell out the Ogden. But they stopped doing that, which sucks. So then, after Poison, Jeff and I did Tom Petty first, and then I did Bruce Springsteen, and then U2, and then Van Halen, and now Bowie.
Jeff Fuller: And we've done the Cure, the Cars, the Rolling Stones and then Elvis.
Indy: Isn't it hard to do Mick Jagger and Ric Ocasek?
Jeff: No, because I don't get that into character. I mean, I try to get the inflections. Elvis fits my voice really well. But the rest of them, I just sing like I normally sing.
Indy: From a personal perspective, what's it like going from Van Halen to David Bowie, apart from not being able to wear assless chaps?
Mike: Well, Van Halen was my favorite band from when I was 11 years old on. So I'd already pretended to be David Lee Roth in my room and all that stuff that teenage boys do. But I've always loved David Bowie, and his voice is easier to imitate, because he's in that lower range.
Indy: You've kind of kept milking the Van Halen thing, even after last year's shows were over.
Mike: What happened was, the guys who I played with are high school buddies. And of all the tributes, just in terms of musicality and technique, Van Halen was the hardest to learn. My friend Xenos Aragon, who played Eddie Van Halen, he spent hundreds of hours getting all of those songs down perfectly. So we're actually putting a video press kit together and we're gonna try going on tour. We've got a show at the Bluebird as Van Halen on January 21.
Jeff: Our friend John is in Zoso, a Led Zeppelin tribute band that's huge. So it'd be cool if they could do that.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, Zoso gets flown in to Brazil. And so the Van Halen guys are like, "Hey, if we can try to get to that level, why not?"
Indy: I always try to ask at least one question that brings everybody down, so I'm wondering: Is it weird that ...
Jeff: Wait, let me guess the question.
Jeff: Is it weird that these shows are more popular than our own shows?
Indy: Exactly right.
Jeff: It's a little weird. But not really, because people love to hear a song they know. And not that many people know a Colorado Springs band's songs unless, you know, they're fans. But even when we [El Toro] play our own shows, we play a cover song and people are like, "I know that song!"
Mike: One of the things I'm glad about is that it's made me a way better vocalist. Like trying to do Springsteen and then do David Bowie, you find out little things that your voice can do that you just never tried. So that's fun. But, god, it's a pain in the ass, too.