Maybe the best thing to happen to parents in the ’80s is that they had the option to move their kids’ birthday parties from the confines of their homes and backyards to entertainment meccas like ShowBiz Pizza Place, which had food (pizza, obvs) and drink (I think sasparilla but I’m not sure, along with other sodas) and also amusements to keep the kids enthralled. Parents could sit guard at the table while the young ‘uns freaked out in the ball crawl or played some Skee Ball or whatnot. And there was entertainment, a floor show of sorts. Which is probably a moment some parents felt a sinking dread at being a captive audience for the animatronic hootenanny that was the Rock-afire Explosion. But to a kid back then that was some high tech stage magic taking place. It was for me certainly! Oh gawd except for when I think, if it was your birthday, they would give you a musical shout out and the birthday spider would drop down from the ceiling. That kinda put you on the spot.
Anyway! Like true rock ‘n’ rollers, the Rock-afire Explosion have not gone gentle into that good night, despite the Showbiz Pizza chain long ago being absorbed by their competitor Chuck E. Cheese’s. They are back, and have “gone viral” in the current internet parlance. There are clips of the “band” on YouTube doing all sorts of songs by the likes of Usher and Madonna and it is sort of wonderful. According to Wired, “Today’s updated set-list revival comes partially courtesy of Chris Thrash, who purchased a vintage set of Rock-afire robots in 2006 and began putting them through the hip-hop paces and posting the resulting videos…”
There is also a feature film about the Rock-afire Explosion that’s going to make the festival circuit rounds soon. Says Aaron Fechter, their inventor, “I knew from the very beginning, if we could hang on long enough, some day the Rock-afire Explosion would live on again.”
Indeed! Long have I lamented the repackaging of my youth, but this is kind of delightful. Below the Rock-afire Explosion perform Madonna’s “4 Minutes.”