GETTING MORE TALE #771: Just A Tribute
I used to loathe tribute bands – those acts that get up on stage and play entire sets of another band. There was “Runs N’ Your Hoses”, for example, a Guns N’ Roses tribute act. In the late 80s and early 90s, these tribute bands plagued the Toronto music scene, chocking out acts playing original music. M.E.A.T Magazine went on a holy crusade against these bands, and refused to give coverage to any of them. I thought that was a good idea. Eventually the Toronto scene flourished with band after band playing original songs.
Things have changed completely in the last 30 years and tribute acts are no longer a scourge like they once were. They co-exist with original bands, sharing the scene. However until recently, I still found tribute bands somewhat embarrassing. Why would I want to go see four guys dressed as Kiss? Sure, it’s cheaper than seeing the real band, and they would play songs that Kiss would not, but still: it’s not Kiss. Kiss tribute bands are a funny thing. Usually the Genes look good, but the Pauls don’t look like Stanley and the Peters are pudgy. I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to get into the act. You’ll also see AC/DC tribute bands, with the guitarist wearing shorts and the singer sporting a train conductor hat. That’s usually as far as it goes, with the rest of the band just showing up in the street clothes. I guess if you are out with friends with nothing to do, you could catch a set of AC/DC tunes for a few bucks.
I took a bit of flack a few months ago when I saw an ad for an Oasis tribute band. The picture showed two guys in Oasis haircuts, obviously meant to be the Liam and Noel of the band. Something about that picture struck me as utterly ridiculous. The haircuts – I mean, do you look like Liam and Noel on your days off? Why not go up there and play the Oasis songs as yourselves? It’s not like Oasis are an image-based band like Kiss (and Angus Young to a lesser degree). You can do Oasis songs without the hair.
A guy who plays in a Queen tribute band chastised me for my blanket stance on tributes. His own band worked hard on nailing the songs, practising until they were perfect. He makes original music in his spare time, quite different from the Queen stuff. He considered the tribute band a form of art, something you could do really poorly or work hard at it and do really well. And it’s not like you can go and see Queen (or Oasis) whenever you want. I didn’t mean to shit all over his livelihood. Surely I couldn’t be the only one who saw the Oasis hair and thought it was a bit silly? His Queen band look the part. He wears a big curly Brian May wig, and his Freddie impersonator looks spot-on. He’s a respectable progressive rock guitarist, and I have to consider that. He knows his stuff and he does music for a living. People love the Queen act, even if I don’t get it.
A little later down the road, I met a music nut named Tony. He asked me if I played any instruments. Alas, I do not. “My brother plays in an Oasis tribute band,” he said. My jaw dropped. Holy shit.
His brother was in the Oasis band with the haircuts that I had been mocking earlier!
I laughed and confessed to him what I had been saying about the Oasis tribute. We talked a bit. I began to appreciate the tribute a bit more. The band, called Supersonic, played all over the place in both Canada and the US. They’ve done big gigs; they’ve played the Horseshoe tavern and all kinds of festivals. Clearly, people at large don’t have a problem with tribute bands. Just me. I don’t hear anybody else complaining about them.
So what’s my problem?
I guess I’m starting to warm up to the idea of tribute bands. I admit, I’d rather see a guitar player get up there as himself, and not wear a Brian May wig. It reminds me a bit of highschool air bands. But when you have a guy up there dressed to the nines like Freddie Mercury, it would seem silly not to have a Brian May lookalike standing next to him, right?
I need to rethink my position. Perhaps they enrich the music scene and fill a demand that the original bands can’t? Some, like The Iron Maidens, have even recorded albums! Few things have changed as much as music has in the last 30 years, and we now seem to be living in a time when a tribute act is a legitimate enterprise. The biggest tribute bands seem to have a gimmick beyond just doing the songs or the look. Hayseed Dixie, for example, used to do bluegrass covers of AC/DC before they diversified to Kiss and other classic rockers. Then there are all-female acts like AC/DShe, Hells Belles and the aforementioned Iron Maidens. Like any kind of band, there are good and bad ones. I think it might be time to stop overlooking the good.