One of the region's coolest cover bands, Missile Toe made its debut at Akron's Daily Double on December 26, 1997. A side project featuring members of local post-punk bands like C.D. Truth and Planet Log 3000, Missile Toe began as a lark, specializing in Christmas songs and Johnny Thunders covers. After more than a decade of holiday hijinks, frontman Jeff Hardy, guitarist James Millar, bassist Dale Houston and drummer Mike Schubert have evolved past the initial formula, adding other pre-1980 punk, glam and British invasion tunes to the mix.
"We do a Pere Ubu song and a Rubber City Rebels tune or two, so we like to pay tribute to Ohio rockers who made us want to rock," says Hardy. "We also sometimes tend to pick songs where the vocalist or a member of the band has died, where you can't hear them play those songs live ever again -like Marc Bolan or Mick Ronson or the members of Sweet who have passed away."
But rockin' in a winter wonderland has been Missile Toe's core mission. Since December is the band's big month, the band will perform Thursday at the Akron Art Museum and Friday at Cleveland's Matinee. But the annual main event is their show on Christmas night, after the presents are opened and the relatives have gone home. The wassailing takes place this year at Akron's Musica.
Part of the fun for fans is seeing what Hardy will be wearing this holiday season. Previous Missile Toe outfits incorporated some sort of green- or red-dyed long-underwear-based elf suit.
"Well, I almost always wear my Canadian paratrooper boots," says Hardy. "Sometimes I'll put on tinsel or some kind of angel halo. I had some angel wings, but I don't think I can wear them anymore because the fastener broke. And for two Christmases, I wore a red velvet dress with either fishnets or sparkle tights with my boots. I made the mistake of washing it and it started to disintegrate. It's sad because I've never been able to find another dress that's good enough to replace it."
Missile Toe's first CD, 1999's holiday-themed Down on a Thistle, was followed in 2001 by a self-titled collection of non-holiday cover tunes. Just in time for the 2008 gift-giving season, the guys have released White Light White Heat White Christmas. It's everything you could wish for: 11 high-octane revisionist Christmas classics plus one Velvet Underground nugget. But is it better than Burl Ives?
"I don't know," admits Hardy. "Those Burl Ives Christmas albums are pretty good. There's that timbre of his voice and his joyful delivery. And he was the voice of that snowman in the Rudolph Rankin-Bass TV special. It all kind of ties together."
The discussion of old Christmas records stirs some warm childhood memories about albums received as gifts, and Hardy fondly recalls the Christmas kitsch of yesteryear.
"I got a little J.C. Penney stereo one year, and I got the Dumbo soundtrack and [the K-Tel novelty record compilation] Goofy Greats," he says. "It might have even been Funky Favorites, but it was the one that had that 'Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda' song on it. There's a line in there that says my name in it, 'Do you remember Jeffrey Hardy? We're about to organize a searching party.' When I heard that, I thought the record was personally made for me, because I'd gotten one of those books before that had my name printed in it. I mean, sure, I know now that's not the case, but when I was little, I was like, 'Wow!' Yeah, that was a good Christmas: a turntable and two vinyl records."
Missile Toe, 5 p.m. Thursday, December 18, Akron Art Museum, 1 S. High St., 330.376.9185; 10 p.m. Friday, December 19, The Matinee, 2527 W. 25th St., 216.574.2843; 8 p.m. Thursday, December 25, Musica Akron, 51 E. Market St., 330.374.1114