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The Invasion of the Tribute Bands : (The Worst and the Best Live Tribute Acts)
The Invasion of the Tribute Bands : (The Worst and the Best Tribute Acts)
A slightly tongue-in-cheek meander through the modern sensation
Once upon a time there was a far off distant band in a land called Scotland, one amongst many that I would go along to watch at my local bar or nightclub.
I used to love going to see local gigs by small-time bands any day of the week just for the notion of hearing something new.
Even the many touring bands from England and Wales, piling out of the back of a clapped-out Ford Transit, living off chip shop supplies before setting up their stage and setting out their stall to entertain the natives of whichever town would have them.
Those were the days, those glory, glory days when there was a certain honesty and authenticity to standing there, beer in hand, nodding my head to a new tune or two as the band did their best.
This is not to claim that they were all any good but at the end of the day their hearts were in the right place but perhaps their heads in the wrong place as a plastic pint of beer came sailing through the limelight.
You could say that this was an attention of sorts, it proved the assailant had at least been listening, had at least the purposeful motive for launching a critical assault on the performance.
Otherwise the musicians could often be little more than a side-show, background music, albeit louder than an elevator jukebox.
They may occasionally have inspired a catcall, a drunken jeer or even the ubiquitous middle-finger.
But to the chattering cliques and pick-up artists around the venue, half of whom may even have had their backs to proceedings, tonight's act was just an irritant getting in the way of a good time.
Of course, many bands were wonderful to behold as they offered up their burgeoning art to an enthusiastic audience keen to hear new sounds and join in the excitement of the latest up and coming prospects on the live scene. Sometimes you could be guaranteed a great night.
However, nowadays it seems that guarantees need to be cast-iron, no room for error, no gamble on how the night will go down, no prospect of disappointment or the terror of an apathetic audience.
The cure-all for any malaise or contagious outbreak of apathy is of course the 'Tribute Band' a modern phenomenon that has enjoyed an exponential growth in the past 10 or 15 years.
The Villains of the Four-Piece
They are everwhere, in every town and every venue across the land spreading the feelgood factor with the rousing cheers of the faithful rattling in their ears.
Bands like 'The Bootleg Beatles', 'The Australian Pink Floyd', 'The Complete Stone Roses', 'The Australian Doors' the list of distinguishing adjectives go on and on, although usually in small print above the hook-line.
At least 'The Counterfeit Clash' add an ironic twist to the genre, there is still room for honesty.
I can't stand them, I can't stand them and all they stand for.
All these fake travelling guitar troupes taking up space normally reserved for new bands with original music.
I must admit immediately that I've never seen any of the aforementioned groups so that puts me on shaky ground I suppose.
Much like the apoplectic clerics who got hot under their dog collars over the blasphemy of 'The Life of Brian' and 'The Last Temptation of Christ' without ever catching a smell of a bag of popcorn or a processed hot-dog with mustard.
Much like the mad Mullahs of Tehran and beyond who declared the Earth off-limits to Salman Rushdie but who hadn't even creased the spine of 'The Satanic Verses' in earnest. In common with them all I have an almost religious hatred of tribute bands simply because they exist at all, it's their very being I object too.
It's basically an existential argument. A fatwa upon them all I say, drive them into the sea. Excommunicate them from the Church of Rock Music according to the Gospel of St Anger.
Nevertheless, I have seen a few of them now and again, mostly local pub bands plying their trade on the scene. They usually fit the template. Balding, overweight middle-aged has-beens or 'never-wozzers' cashing in on the talent and creativity of someone else to keep the mortgage payments going.
I'm surprised no enterprising business person hasn't tried operating a national franchise by recruiting teams of musical employees around the country under one umbrella. Well, if the real music world can live with corporatism then why can't the plastic alternative do so too?
Wanted: Hard working, experienced musicians willing to play anything, mediocrity no barrier,
Guaranteed income, top earnings a possibility, must be willing to travel, knowledge of dead rockstars an advantage.
Youth Gone Mild
But what is even more worse than the old greybeards churning out the riffs and drumbeats is the increasing number of youngsters jumping on the bandwagon.
Why chase the dream when you can live the dream?
Or a vastly diluted version of it at least, a little taste of sugar is better than none at all I suppose.
Now we have the posturing of the 'Guitar Hero' aficionado, a semi air-guitarist transplanted from the living room to the stage.
A famous exception who made the leap from fantasy to reality was Tim 'Ripper' Owens who was catapulted on to the main stage of life after being picked up from a 'Judas Priest' tribute act.
He became the singer with the real band as a replacement for Rob Halford. This event provided the inspiration for the movie 'Rockstar' where actor Mark Wahlberg portrayed a character loosely based on the story of Ripper's rise to fame.
But where is the creative exploration of youth? Where is the originality and arrogance of the aspiring star, where is the next Kurt Cobain? We need more bands brave enough to strike out on their own terms and more venues crazy enough to risk their profit margins and book them.
That's if they're still out there of course or has the peer-to-peer generation rendered them an endangered species?
I can't deny current realities however as the tribute band is a popular entertainment in our musical culture. But then so is 'The X-Factor' and 'Pets Do the Funniest Things' or worse to that effect.
The top groups have ascended to playing theatre gigs in front of thousands of adoring fans who have colluded in the mass deception as they wallow in the nostalgia and relive the days when it was once real.
People actually pay money to see these bands, £15-£20 or even more as some of the Superfart bands are charging up to £100. This is a fact I find quite incredible and I'm even more disbelieving to see their names on festival line-ups or playing support to famous artists. There's little chance of a new modern masterpiece if it's watered-down colour by numbers.
I was almost seduced once by the phenomenon when I went to see a band called 'ABCD' and I'm sure you can guess which rock group they were impersonating. The first time I saw them I really enjoyed the show, they were quite a tight outfit, the guitarist dressed up like Angus Young and the singer sounded uncannily like Bon Scott.
But by the second or third date the brief flirtation was over and the romance had died as I stood their watching them it only reminded me how much I wanted to see the real thing or even how much I regretted never having seen the legendary Bon Scott live on stage.
Of course many tribute bands play the tunes of artists who are long gone, like The Beatles and Elvis Presley who will never return. You may feel that they have a relevance as a sort of replacement for something gone. A brand new budgie almost exactly the same as the old one that expired from old age in the cage or got caught by the cat.
Don't tell the kids it's not the same one, let them enjoy the delusion, it'll do them no harm in the long run. Why live with reality when you can create the illusion. No one gets hurt, no one gets disappointed, guaranteed good time, guaranteed dancing, singing and cash-tills ringing.
From the Soft Parade to the Self-Parody
Ultimately in any form of entertainment, be that music TV, theatre-stage or Hollywood movie the parody can become the self-parody and now we have tribute bands masquerading as real bands. Phil Lynott was half-Brazilian, half-Irish and a full strength genius in the poetry and soulful expressive art of music-making.
Without Phil Lynott there is no such thing as 'Thin Lizzy', there ain't no such animal. I saw the reincarnated 'Thin Lizzy' some years ago with John Sykes singing. A fine guitarist and singer he may be but he's no Lynott and it's not the same band. Neither was his replacement Ricky Warwick.
Add into the bargain that the band haven't released an album in over 30 years puts them into the tribute act cabaret circuit in my book. It was good news then that they decided to throw off the cloak of Invidious Lizzity and re-emerge as the Black Star Riders with actual new songs.
In a similar vein there was the travesty of 'The Doors of the 21st Century'
The late Ray Manzarek and Robby Kreiger hit the road with Ian Astbury, singer with 'The Cult' to light the fire on a dormant memory.
Astbury even appeared in publicity shots with a thick mane of tousled hair.
Jim is dead, the Lizard King is dead, long live the music but 'The Doors' of the mind are closed and certainly never to be opened again by my unwilling hand.
At least original drummer John Densmore, a non-participant in the pseudo revival, had the integrity to force them to change the name to 'D21C' by heading for the courts.They eventually settled on 'Riders on the Storm' as the band name.
Freddie Mercury has long gone now, a charismatic performer and brilliant singer and songwriter. He was irreplaceable. So what did Queen do? They replaced him of course.
However thankfully there was no pretence of a cloned regeneration of the great man. Paul Rogers was drafted in to form this new outfit called 'Queen + Paul Rogers' which was actually Brian May, Roger Taylor plus Paul Rogers since bassist John Deacon elected for the quiet life.
The result was a mediocre album called 'The Cosmos Rocks' which met lukewarm reviews and sales although it did reach No.1 in Estonia. It was followed by sell-out tours combining the songs of 'Queen', 'Free' and 'Bad Company' with much success.
I believe they sang the old classic 'Fire and Water' without a trace of irony because it isn't 'Queen' it isn't 'Free' and they just don't mix. Taking bodies from other bands, piecing together different tunes from different styles is just a Frankenstein experiment in reanimation, a real horror show.
The Exception Has No Rules
There's usually an exception that proves the rule and this is no exception from that rule.
There are some tribute bands I actually like but only because they have an interesting angle
One that differs from the usual dross and because they took a chance on something different.
Plus they don't take themselves too seriously.
American band 'Beatallica' play songs by 'The Beatles' in the authentic style of 'Metallica' with wonderful song-titles such as 'Sgt Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band', 'A Garage Days Night', 'Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice' and 'I Want to Choke Your Band'.
Bizarrely, it actually works as they've managed to pull it off.
Then there are the living legends that are 'Hayseed Dixie' all the way from the Appalachian Mountains.
They have their own brand of a Hillbilly Cajun Country overhaul of ACDC classics like 'Highway to Hell' and 'Whole Lotta Rosie'.
And any band that can play 'I Don't Feel Like Dancing' by the Scissor Sisters or Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs' on banjo, fiddle and guitar has to have my utmost admiration.
I could even appreciate the old 1990s band 'Dread Zeppelin' simply for having the inspiration and the daring to release reggae versions of Zep classics sung by an Elvis impersonator. Truly original.
The thing about these bands and any others of a similar nature is that they took a gamble on success and they took a chance on failure. It was always possible they could have landed on their faces with the ridicule of the die-hards and the unconconvinced ringing in their ears.
I pay tribute to them for at least showing us another way and would therefore exempt them from the disdain and disgust that has permeated this here article.
I would also exempt a couple of my mates who play in local tribute bands, fine guys, great musicians and really playing for the love it.
Anything for a quiet life.
"You've been a wonderful audience, thank you and goodnight!"
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