That was a blast (as always!) By popular demands, Aaron returned! True to form, the man known as “Mr Books” presented…books! Leonard Cohen, Charlie Watts, a certain black guitar wielded by David Gilmore, and more! As for Harrison, he too had some books to show, as well as some interesting discs by Concrete Blonde and a smashingly cool lightsaber!
I unboxed the new Queen Miracle box set, a Black Sabbath Sabotage, and a Def Leppard From London to Vegas. We took a look at the contents of each. The Queen box set is suitably majestic, featuring a lovely hardcover book and loads upon loads of music to listen to.
“Ask Harrison” returned tonight, with questions from Lana (via Tee Bone) and California Girl, and a bit of a curveball “Ask Mike” as well. Warning: there could be more “Ask Mike” coming in the future!
GRAB A STACK OF ROCK…with Mike and the Mad Metal Man Episode 7: Special guest Aaron KMA
Aaron‘s back! Due to popular demand, the big guy has agreed to return for another hour of rock. Tonight, I plan on unboxing my Queen The Miracle box set, and others with time permitting. I have two sealed Rush box sets (Hemispheres and Permanent Waves) and a sealed Metallica (Master of Puppets) that could be opened tonight. It’s up to you — whatever you want!
Harrison the Mad Metal Man and Aaron always have something interesting to show and tonight will be no exception. So let’s wait and see!
We also have the popular “Ask Harrison” returning tonight, with Lana (via Tee Bone) and California Girl offering up a pair of questions and a curveball. Hopefully we will learn a little about the elusive Australian madman and his homeland tonight.
RECORD STORE TALES #1023: “Just the pieces of the man I used to be”
You never know how it’s gonna go.
You roll out of bed feeling like a winner, and then suddenly for absolutely no reason, that completely changes and you’re struggling to break even.
Maybe it’s the pressures of modern life. The hustle and the bustle. The need to get things done, even though you’re behind and energy is in short supply.
The feeling of loneliness even though you are not alone. There’s a dark place in your heart, only inhabited by you, that no one can break into. It’s not that you can’t let them in. It’s that you don’t even know how to open that door. Of if you actually want to. If you’d prefer to be alone.
The daily monotony, the commute, the cold, the damp.
The fact that all the hours of daylight happen when you’re in an office doing your daily grind.
The pressure and drive to do something important, to be someone who matters. To make a difference. To be somebody…anybody…but who you are.
Somehow, a sad song helps. There’s something about a sad song that can pry its way into your soul. Provide sympathy. Warmth. Help you dry the tears. That tells you someone out there is feeling the exact same way you do. It’s as if someone in the world knows you, just as well as you know yourself.
You could be in a room full of happy celebrations, and feel so alone, so completely down, yet have to fake it to make it.
One of the worst winters of my younger life was the winter of ’95-96. I had just been dumped by my first real serious girlfriend. I put on a brave face and for a few days, I thought I had weathered the storm. I listened to “classic British hard blues” that week and felt super strong. The crash came later. One of the albums that helped me through that winter was Queen’s Made In Heaven. The final album with Freddie. Though there is some undeniable dark material on the album, such as “Mother Love”, and “Too Much Love Will Kill You”, I was amazed at how positive some of the other songs such as “Heaven For Everyone” were. The album was like a journey through my own convoluted feelings.
“I’m just the pieces of the man I used to be, Too many bitter tears are raining down on me.”
Yet on the same album:
“In these days of cold affections, You sit by me and everything’s fine.”
What will the album for the winter of 2022 be? For the last several years, I’ve been digging deep down into the albums that made me happy as a youth.
“Listen! They said I didn’t stand a chance, I wouldn’t win no way, But I’ve got news for you, There’s nothing I can’t do!”
It was a different time. There was misery, but nothing can duplicate that feeling of hearing a song for the first time. A song that you know means something to you. That is destined to stick with you for your whole life. And when you put those records on again, a million things start happening in your head. You can be 12 or 13 again. A time when the real problems of life were completely unknown to you and the biggest issue you had was figuring out how to talk to the girl you liked.
Like a phantom of a dream, old songs make the memories real again. As you wipe a tear from your eye, you remember. It can help sooth the sadness.
Sometimes you just have to cry it out, whatever it is. Hell, I don’t know what it is exactly. I just know it sucks.
They say that life never hands you anything you can’t handle. I don’t know about that. History is rife with people who could not handle what life has given them. I think I can – but it’s never simple, straightforward, or obvious how to do it.
So I write.
It’s the only thing I’m really good at. The only thing people really notice about me.
I write in the hopes that someone will understand.
That someone will relate.
That someone can take what I have experienced and draw something good from it.
And that maybe I’ll get some of that goodness back.
This winter has been pretty good. My strategies are working. My support personnel are solid. But there will always be days where I can’t help it. Can’t help FEELING IT. The old familiar sting of that cold, unrelenting loneliness. The kind of loneliness that can strike even when you are in a room full of loved ones.
One of the best albums for this time of year is Catherine Wheel’s Adam & Eve record. It captures it all.
“Start the day, in a cold December way, feel what’s new, it’s December through and through.”
And on the same record:
“And we crown ourselves again, There’s been no change since you and I were young, When we burned ourselves again, The spaceship days when you and I were young.”
I crave those spaceship days so hard sometimes. But you can never really go back.
Except with a song.
Come back with me. Join me in my memories, on this sad, cold winter day.
DEF LEPPARD – A Concert For Life – Tribute to Freddie Mercury (Wembley Stadium, 20 April 1992)
Metallica had come and blown the crowd of 72,000 away. Extreme impressed the skeptics with a Queen medley. Live broadcast to 50 countries, there was no pressure at all on Def Leppard! The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was only the biggest show of 1992. And they had a new member to show off.
The band had given their new guitarist an easy warm up at a club gig at home in Ireland. But his first high profile show would be the biggest imaginable. Without an introduction, out walked former Sweet Savage / Dio / Whitesnake / Riverdogs / Shadow King guitarist Vivian Campbell!
What a choice! There he was with his new band, completely confident and nailing “Animal”. In his Union Jack jeans, Joe Elliott bounced on the massive stage, working the crowd without missing a note. After a brief pause, he then asked the throbbing mass of people, “Do you wanna get rocked?”
It was the first major live outing of a brand new Def Leppard hit. Hamming for the camera, Vivian ably handles the backing vocals, adding more depth to the live Leppard sound. The late Steve Clark didn’t sing as many backing vocals, and Viv was a natural. The crowd ate it up, fists in the air and digging the new tune. One of the coolest moments is the solo, in which Phil Collen’s picking hand turns into a blur.
One more tune. And then an even bigger moment: Brian May himself joined Def Leppard for a cover of Queen’s “Now I’m Here”! (This track was later included on the 2 CD Adrenalize deluxe edition.) Of course we all awaited the guitar solo. Viv went first (introduced by Joe for the first time), and Phil took the second solo. They really made ’em wait for Brian May! It was, of course, not May’s first time with Def Leppard.
Even bigger things were in store for the Wembley Crowd as day turned to night. Queen emerged, playing a long set of classics with a series of incredible guest singers. And Joe got to open their set, with Slash on guest guitar. With one of his very favourite bands, Joe got to sing “Tie Your Mother Down”. And nailed it.
The big question for Leppard fans was “who could possibly replace Steve Clark?” In Vivian Campbell, they selected a guy who could play with both feel and shred, as well as write songs and sing. The personalities worked. The ironic thing is, post-Dio, Vivian had been seen as something of a “hired gun” guitar player. Would he last in Def Leppard? In his early interviews, he insisted that he was always looking for a band situation that he could stay in for life. It turns out that Def Leppard was that band.
Club gig aside, the Freddie Mercury tribute concert was Vivian’s real trial by fire. It was obvious the band had made the right choice. Nobody could truly “replace” Steve Clark as the band’s in-house riffmaster. Vivian helped Leppard evolve into the 1990s. On with the tour! Leppard might not have been the biggest rock band in the world anymore, but they rocked 72,000 people, plus millions more at home worldwide. Not too shabby.
MuchMusic broadcast the whole show, and then did a repeat performance of the entire thing at night. It was then that I set my VCR and taped the entire broadcast, with Erica Ehm’s interviews with various bands, including Def Leppard. Wembley were treated to Queen videos on massive screens in between bands, and those videos are also part of the broadcast. MuchMusic’s feed was superior to MTV. I was in Frankenmuth, Michigan mere days later at the end of final exams, watching MTV. Our coverage was better. The complete show has never been officially released in any format.
Released to arcades in 1981, Vanguard didn’t catch my attention until it hit the Atari 2600 the following year. While I have never played the arcade game, the Atari version was in my hands as soon as I could afford it. Notably, the Atari game borrowed some of its music from Queen. Vanguard was a scrolling space game, but where it differed from other games was that it changed orientation from side-to-side to up-and-down at points during the adventure. There were a variety of adversaries, and power-ups to take advantage of. There was even a “boss” to take out at the end, and then it all repeated over again at a higher difficulty. We kids were in love with it, even the simplified Atari version.
Incidentally, Atari artwork and instruction manuals were excellent. They often began with a short story — this one of the “Vanguard Expedition” into the “tunnels of Aterria” looking for a semi-mythical “City of Mystery”. Enough to capture a kid’s imagination, especially when combined with the cool box art.
My best friend Bob and I, being the creative types, thought we could design a sequel. We painstakingly drew every screen in pencil, one after the other. There were 19 screens in total. We taped them together in order with Scotch tape, so that you could lay the whole thing out on the floor if you so desired. Each screen led into the next with attention to detail.
Bob and I had “designed” a dozen games already, drawing them on paper, but they were one or two screens at best. Our Vanguard 2 was 19 levels! Many heavily ripped off from Star Wars. It was only 1983 or 1984 at the latest. Although ours is completely unrelated to the actual Vanguard II that came out in 1984, out friends kept on telling us “You should send your ideas in to Atari”. We were big dreamers but we had a lot of fun pouring hours of creativity into these projects. I’m glad I still have some of them, including Vanguard 2.
I thought it would be fun to scan each screen and post the whole thing with commentary. I tinted the old pages to give them some variety visually. Check out the complete Vanguard 2 game!
Title page. Our “hero ship” basically ripped off from the Colonial Viper from Battlestar Galactica. Enemy ships show heavy Star Wars influence.
Screen 1. Scrolling to the right. Imagine continuous scrolling, as if all the pages were laid out on the ground. Entering mountain! Just like the first Vanguard, you must navigate a tunnel in your space ship. Enemy craft, mines and drones ahead!
Screen 2. A barrier to break through, and a choice of upper or lower tunnels to take.
Screen 3. Upper tunnel was a trap! Although you could possibly shoot your way through a weak spot in the cave wall.
Screen 4: Switching out your ship for a submarine.
Screen 5: More enemy resistance ahead, and a difficult choice of three tunnels to take.
Screen 6: Bottom tunnel would have been the best choice. Giant jelly fish and a 5 second force field power up ahead!
Screen 7: Now it’s giant Octopii! Your sub is running low on fuel, and there is a tempting fuel depot in the lower cave.
Screen 8: The only way through these narrow caverns is to miniaturize your sub. Then you must choose upper or lower tunnels, with the upper appearing easier.
Screen 9: The upper tunnel has heavier resistance at a poor attack angle, plus a classic Atari-style bouncing barrier block, that you must time just right. Success means deminiaturization and a new spaceship.
Screen 10: Whether you take the upper or lower tunnels, you have plenty of opposition and the opportunity for a 5 second shield. Either way — the Sarlacc pit awaits at the end of the screen. (We would have called it something else.)
Screen 11: Made it through the first mountain. Passing through the energy barrier automatically “beams” you to the next screen. (We called the mountains “Screen 1” and “Screen 2” since we envisioned it as a continuous side scroller, with only this one break in between. Here I am calling the individual drawings “screens” as it makes more sense when you look at them individually.)
Screen 12: Still scrolling to the right — entering volcano! A choice of two tunnels ahead.
Screen 13: Either way, both tunnels will lead you to a new ship, plenty of opposition, and a 7 second force field.
Screen 14: Your new ship has dual lasers and can stand the heat of the lava lake you are about to enter!
Screen 15: You’re heating up so don’t be long. Upper tunnel offers some squidly opposition while the lower has plenty of enemy subs.
Screen 16: You’re low on fuel, and a giant lizard is sitting right there by the fuel depot!
Screen 17: Boss Level! As in the first game, the Great Gond awaits you at the end. He is protected by enemy ships and cruise missiles. Once you beat Gond, we change orientation: now the game scrolls up! Make your escape through the cone of the volcano.
Screen 18: Scrolling up as you try to outrace the flames of the erupting volcano beneath you, while being harassed by enemy ships and missiles!
Screen 19: If you beat the flames, you win the game!
We could have had a hit video game on our hands! We loved to draw and a lot of this was drawn outdoors. I’m pleased the thing held together long enough for me to scan it. Imagine that Queen theme playing as you win!
QUEEN + ADAM LAMBERT – “You Are the Champions” (2020 iTunes)
Queen were one of the earlier groups out of the gate with new “lockdown” recordings. From their homes they re-recorded “We Are the Champions”, dedicated to frontline workers, with Adam Lambert to raise money for the World Health Organisation’s “Solidarity Response Fund”. Whatever the cause may be, we are here to review the music.
The idea here is that Queen are not the champions this time — we are! Together we have locked down and sacrificed, and we are doing it for each other. The lyrics don’t really fit but we know what Queen meant. Lambert doesn’t actually change the words to “You are the champions” until the halfway point.
This track is the familiar Queen arrangement, though shortened by a verse. Adam Lambert is a fine singer, as he proves in the outro. Queen didn’t go with the big layered vocals here; perhaps you need a recording studio to do that. Instead Lambert’s voice takes the spotlight by itself. Even the instrumentation is sparse — no solos, and only a couple Brian May guitar noodles to savour.
There’s a striking music video with stark footage of empty streets. I like that Lambert did his hair and makeup to the nines while the other two look casual. Let’s join Queen and Adam in thanking our frontline healthcare workers — and thank you Queen for recording again. How about a new album next time?
I’ve never been much of a winter guy. I get that from my dad. The winter of ’92 was long with a number of serious snow days. I had just learned how to drive and it was certainly a challenge. Details are not important. You don’t need an accounting of times my little Plymouth Sundance got stuck or struggled to make it home from school. All you really need to know was what was in my tape deck.
I was still digesting a lot of the music that I received for Christmas at the end of ’91. The live Poison and Queensryche sets got a lot of car play once I dubbed them onto cassette. At this point my attention to detail was becoming overwhelming. I painstakingly faded in and faded out the sides of the live albums onto cassette. This had to be done manually as you were recording. If I missed the cue I’d do it over again until I got it right to my satisfaction. I should have known there was something wrong with me!
We had one serious snow day that year, and although class wasn’t cancelled I stayed home. My school friend Rob V made a tape for me of David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour. I know that I played that tape on that day because the memory is so clear. It was a great concert. Roth and Steve Vai had a fun interplay, where Steve imitated Roth’s vocal intonations with his guitar. Vai followed his voice as Roth told the crowd, “Toronto kicks ass, because the girls are soooo fiiiine!”
Time flies, and 1992 didn’t take long to kick into gear with new releases.
I had just discovered Queen. Suddenly here comes this new movie Wayne’s World which made Queen a worldwide phenomenon for a second time. More important to me though was the fact that the soundtrack CD included the first new Black Sabbath track with Ronnie James Dio in a decade: “Time Machine”! My buddy Peter didn’t care — he was strictly an Ozzy Sabbath fan. No Dio! (And certainly no Tony Martin!) But I was excited. I wanted to get that soundtrack as soon as possible.
There was a new music store that had just opened at the mall about six months prior. The very first tape I would ever buy there was the debut album by Mr. Bungle in late ’91. It would be the very Record Store that I would later dedicate years of my life to…but not yet. When it opened, I recall my sister and I being glad that there was finally a music store at the mall again, but disappointed in the prices. $14.99 for a tape was a lot of cash. CDs were unfortunately out of our price range. New cassette releases like Wayne’s World were cheaper at $10.99, so I went to the mall before class one morning to get a copy. And this is a funny memory as you’ll see.
When I worked at the store, the boss would give me shit if he thought I was talking to someone too much. I think he would have preferred good old fashioned silent labour, but I don’t know that. He also drilled into us to pay attention to every customer and don’t ignore anybody. So it’s quite ironic that he lost a sale that day by ignoring me and talking it up with some hot girl visiting him!
I was standing there in front of his new release rack looking for Wayne’s World. I knew it was out, but didn’t see it anywhere. I checked his soundtracks and it was missing in action. I wanted to ask him if he had it, but he was chatting it up with this girl. Eventually I caught his attention, but only because as I stood there waiting, I thought he did ask me a question. So I said, “Pardon me?” But he wasn’t actually talking to me, he was still talking to the girl. Once he noticed me, he informed me that Wayne’s World was sold out but he could hold a copy for me as soon as the next shipment arrived. I was ticked off so I said no thanks, and picked it up at the Zellers store down the hall instead.
Wayne’s World in the deck, I happily rocked to Queen, Sabbath, Cinderella, and hell even Gary Wright. Peter and I saw the movie one Saturday night at a theater in Guelph, and liked it so much that we went back to see it again the following afternoon. I saw Wayne’s World four times that winter!
I got my fill of Queen with the recent Classic Queen CD, released later that March. I got the CD for a good price at the local Costco! This enabled me to get a good chunk of Queen hits all at once in glorious CD quality.
The next big release to hit my car deck was a big one. A really big one. An album five years in the making through triumph and tragedy.
On March 31 I went back to the Record Store on my way to class, and the new release I was waiting for had arrived. I left gripping Adrenalize in my hands. An album I had been waiting for since highschool and even had actual dreams about! It was finally real. Into the tape deck it went as I drove to school. Less riffy…more reliant on vocal melody…not bad? I’ll let them have it though. After what they’ve been through? Yeah, I’ll cut them some slack.
Two weeks later, I was digesting another massive chunk of music.
I didn’t get Pandora’s Box in 1991 when it was released. There was so much going on. But my parents bought it for me as an Easter gift in April ’92. That Easter I was “Back in the Saddle” with three CDs of Aerosmith!
It was a bittersweet gift. Traditionally the family spent Easter at the cottage. I have lots of happy memories of playing GI Joe in the fresh Easter afternoons up there. This time I had to study for final exams and stayed home with my gift. I must have played that box set two times through while studying that weekend.
Exams were over by the end of April and suddenly…it was summer holidays. In April! It was…incredible! I stubbornly refused to get a summer job. I have to say I don’t regret that. I had savings from my previous job at the grocery store and I was getting Chrysler dividends cheques (yeah, baby). Between that, Christmas & birthday gifts, I got most of the music I wanted. And I got to spend that summer just enjoying it all. It felt really good after such a long and frankly lonely winter.
Pandora’s Box tided me over. After all, it was a lot to absorb having heard very little “old” Aerosmith up til that point. My favourite track was “Sharpshooter” by Whitford – St. Holmes. I liked that they included a sampling of solo material by various members. These were new worlds to discover, but what about the next big release? Who would be the one to spend my valuable savings on?
Iron Maiden were back on May 11 after a very short absence with Fear of the Dark, their second of the Janick Gers era. But I needed to save my money, and wait one more week for something even more important to me. It was Revenge time.
Speaking of triumph and tragedy, it was time for some overdue spoils for Kiss. Having lost drummer Eric Carr to cancer in late ’91, Kiss deserved to catch a break. Fortunately Revenge turned out to be a far better album than the previous few. I recall getting over a really bad cold, and my lungs were still congested on that spring day. The outdoor air felt amazing. I walked over to the mall on release day and bought my CD copy at the Record Store. I probably ran all the way home to play it, lungs be damned.
To say I was happy was an understatement. In 1992 you had to come out with something strong or you would sink. It was a more vicious musical world than just a year ago. Fortunately Kiss did not wimp out and came out with an album just heavy enough, without following trends. It would be my favourite album of the year, though a few strong contenders were still lined up.
My birthday was coming and I would have to wait a little while to get some more essential tunes. Fear of the Dark was on the list. So was Faith No More’s Angel Dust, which was a must. And, of course, rock’s ultimate royalty returned in 1992. A band that rock history cannot ignore, though it arguably should. A band that defined the term “odorous”. A band with a colourful and tragic backstory. A band making its long feared return with its first album since 1984’s Smell the Glove. And with their new album Break Like the Wind, they proudly proclaimed, yes indeed, this is Spinal Tap.
Once again, quite a bit of music to absorb. I had been anticipating the Iron Maiden. I heard the first single “Be Quick or Be Dead” on Q107 late one night, and didn’t think much of it at first. I was concerned that Bruce Dickinson’s voice was becoming more growly and less melodic. The album helped assuage these concerns with a number of melodic numbers including “Wasting Love”, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” and “Fear of the Dark”. But the album was infected with lots of filler. “Weekend Warrior”, “Fear is the Key”, “Chains of Misery”…lots of songs that were just not memorable. Fear of the Dark sounded better than its predecessor but could you say it was better than Seventh Son? Somewhere in Time? Powerslave? No.
Though it was murky and dense, the Faith No More album blew me away. The M.E.A.T Magazine review by Drew Masters gave it 2/5 M’s. I gave it 5/5. I wanted something heavy and weird from Faith No More. I got what I wanted. Peter was a big Faith No More fan too, but I don’t think he dug Angel Dust as much as I did. We both appreciated the comedic aspects but I really got into the samples, nuances and rhythms. It was, and is, a masterpiece. I believe I can say that I was of that opinion from the very beginning.
And Spinal Tap, dear Spinal Tap. The Majesties of Rock took a little longer for me to fully understand. And no wonder, for Spinal Tap are playing musical 4-dimensional chess inside your ear canals. I simply had to accept that several years had passed since Spinal Tap last recorded, and they had grown in their own stunted way. I’ve always thought that the title track was sincerely brilliant. But I never liked that Nigel Tufnel had so few lead vocals. I have long appreciated bands that had multiple lead singers. While this time even bassist Derek Smalls stepped up to the microphone, it was David St. Hubbins who sang lead on 11 of the 14 tracks. Now, this is certainly not to criticise the enviable lead pipes of St. Hubbins, but merely to state that there wasn’t enough Nigel. Having said that, Nigel did branch out by employing a new guitar playing technique — doubling his solos with vocals, like Gillan used to do with Blackmore. He also got to unleash his new amps that went up to infinity, which debuted live at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in April.
Like all things, summer eventually came to an end and it was back to school once again. That fall and into Christmas I got some of the last new releases that were on my radar. I missed Black Sabbath when Dehumanizer came out in June. That one took a long time to really like. While the production was incredibly crisp, the songs didn’t seem up to snuff to me. At least at first. In time, it became a personal favourite album.
That Christmas came the new Bon Jovi album Keep the Faith, Queen’s new Greatest Hits, and of course AC/DC Live. It was also the Christmas that I first realized there was something wrong inside my head, and I realized it because of those albums. It was partly the obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also a massive hangup about being ignored. I wanted the AC/DC double Live, but was given the single. I wanted Keep the Faith and Queen on CD but got cassette. As I grew older and learned more about myself, I realized that I became very upset if I felt like someone was not listening to me or understanding me. Nobody seemed to get why I wanted specific versions (because of my OCD actually), and I couldn’t explain it, so that set me off even further. I became extremely grumpy that Christmas over these gifts, and it was ugly. I isolated myself to stew in my own negativity. It’s not something I’m proud of, and you can call me a spoiled brat if you want to (you wouldn’t be wrong). At least I’ve worked at trying to figure out my defects.
It’s not like any of it mattered in the long term. I have re-bought all of those albums twice since, each!
1992 went out much like it came in, cold and snowy. Canadian winters are hard. Some people have the DNA for it, but I don’t. I’m half Italian. I wasn’t designed for snowy, damp winters. That’s why music is so important to me in the winter months. Music can be a completely indoor activity and I had a continually fresh supply. 1992 was a big year for heavy metal even though the grunge revolution had already started. Of course, things were not to stay as they are. Iron Maiden and Faith No More were about to hit some major speedbumps, and Black Sabbath had already split in two by the end of the year! 1992 was the last time we could pretend heavy metal was still in good health. Hard rock was about to endure further challenges and hardships. At least we had ’92.
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.