Monday, December 10, 2007

It’s Debatable: A True Tribute or A Trick?

There is only one original ... unless you're the Original Famous Ray's Pizza in New York.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Dark Star Orchestra with my friend Jordan. I have to say that they had to be the best Grateful Dead cover band I’d ever seen. They sounded like the Dead, they played a full Dead show (in our case we got the 8/18/89 show from at the Greek Theater in Berkley, CA) and most importantly they jammed like the Dead. As someone who missed out on the original band when Jerry Garcia was alive, hearing them at the 9:30 Club was about as close to the real thing as I’m ever going to get. However, while the music was great there were some other things that I felt were …. debatable. First of all the band tries to look like Dead. Not nececsarily their outfits but their mannerisms. Now some of them, in particular “Bob Weir”, were pretty spot on. They mimicked their singing and playing styles perfectly. All of it was very impressive and like I really did have a great time – that’s not the debate. The debate is did the band go a bit too far by trying to recreate every little nuance of a show from 1989? The second thing I felt was debatable was that many people in the audience we really trying to recreate “the scene”. Dirty hippies were everywhere. So I ask you, at what point do tribute bands or cover bands become lame? Some I’m sure would say that all of them are lame but I disagree. There is nothing wrong with a band just trying to do a musical impression of another band if they’re not around anymore. Though I do think it’s a bit weird hearing about tribute bands for bands that are touring today - like the Dave Matthews Band tribute band or the Aerosmith tribute band…. Seriously they only play Aerosmith songs. Thanks but the real deal is painful enough.

In my opinion it doesn’t really hurt anybody to try and act like the band you’re paying tribute to while you’re playing their music. I don’t need that to enjoy the show but I’m sure it helps some people “trick” themselves into believing they’re seeing the real thing. Indeed these might be the same people trying to dress and act like they’re at a Dead show in 1989. And frankly I don’t think this is a good thing…especially not in 2007 and when you’re in your 40’s. You know who you are people. So this is my question for you: isn’t all of this a little sad? I think it is great to celebrate the music of a band you can’t otherwise see, but to try and act like you’re at the real thing seems a bit phony. It’s sort of up there with the guys who play pick up basketball when they’re in their 30’s and act like they’re playing in a big high school game all over again. You can’t relive the past but I guess some can try.

So what do you think? Are cover bands a true tribute to the original or are they just an excuse for people to trick themselves into believing they are in another time and place? And if so is that OK? Send your thoughts to or post in the comments section below.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

I don't think there is a clear cut answer to your post. Clearly there is a difference between a random high school cover band and one that has played with each member of the original group -- and plays entire shows.

Let me throw something out... is an award winning production of a Shakespeare play a cop out? It could be argued that there never should have been another showing of Hamlet once William Shakespeare died, and I'm sure there are high school kids every where that would have been happy, but the world would be less of a place. Or how do you feel about an Orchestra playing Mozart? Is that cool? Or a cop out?

I think some music is meant to be played live. It is clearly better in a live venue with other people also enjoying it. It is only within the last 100 years that we've even had technology to enjoy the original performance after the death of the artist... But the power of a live jam is something to be respected.

I don't think a tribute band could match the magic of the original group, but I do think they can bring a part of the experience to people (like you) that never got to, and will never get to, enjoy the original.

That said, fat old dirty hippies that give you a hug and call you "my little friend" are just plain sketchy no matter where they are... That dude sucked.