Tag Archives: Tribute Bands

About That Paul McCartney/Nirvana Song

Last night a pretty incredible benefit concert was held at Madison Square Garden to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.  This so-called “12/12/12” concert was jam-packed with tons of talent: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, and The Who were there just to name a few.  Of course today all anyone can talk about is Sir Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana. Apparently Nirvana and McCartney got together and recorded a song for a documentary Dave Grohl put together called SOUND CITY.

The song’s called “Cut Me Some Slack” and it’s surprisingly not the horrible train-wreck you’d expect from a Paul McCartney-fronted Nirvana.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either Paul or Nirvana, it’s just not two things I’d expect to go together very well.  Sure, Cobain worshipped The Beatles and infused his own music with their unique pop-sensibilities (although he made them heavier) but when I think of Nirvana I don’t think of The Beatles.  Whereas The Beatles were very much a peace and love band, Nirvana was angry and moody.  Plus, McCartney is really getting up their in years and I’ve always associated Nirvana with youth.  Destructive, unbridled, youth.

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I guess maybe that’s why “Cut Me Some Slack” works so well: this isn’t a young version of Nirvana.  Hell, this isn’t even really Nirvana.  Yes, I went there.  I realize that there are bands that can exist without their lead singer, but Nirvana sure ain’t one. Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool to see all those guys playing together again. It was especially nice seeing bassist Krist Novoselic on stage again, as he’s mostly dropped out of the music world, opting to direct films and study law.

Had the song sucked we could have blamed McCartney for being too old and for mucking about where he didn’t belong.  Thankfully the song is good enough, and their performance was energetic.  I was reluctant to write anything about this because I’m starting to feel weird writing so much about all these old dinosaurs of rock. I was looking over my Top 10 Albums of 2012 and I feel kinda strange about having so many classic rock artists on it.  Rock has always been about the here and now AND young people.  I’m not saying that old people can’t contribute to rock music or that rock artists should shut up (or be killed LOGANS RUN-style when they get to old) but the previous generation’s shadow is stifling this generations artists.

As if to drive this fact home, I got an email from Live Nation that really turned my stomach.  Take a glance at the upcoming concerts in my area:

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Memories of Elvis? An Allman Brothers Tribute?Dark Star Orchestra (which is a Grateful Dead tribute)?  Not only are these older acts not going away, when they do (usually only when death intercedes) we are then given tribute bands to fill their places.  Why in the hell aren’t we just going to see new bands? I’m just as guilty as anyone.  In fact, the next concert I’m attending is a Pink Floyd tribute. Just like the film industry won’t let old franchies go, the music industry won’t let old brands die.  And make no mistake, The Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd are nothing but brands at this point.  Three tribute bands/acts in a long list of upcoming concerts isn’t so bad, I guess.  And this is a Live Nation email, which is designed to goad aging hipsters into hiring a babysitter and having a night out.  I get that.  I also get that every night in this city there are awesome, young bands playing their hearts out.  I just wish the Nirvanas and the McCartney’s of the world would bow out gracefully and let them into the limelight.

Ah, don’t listen to me…I’m just an aging rock fan.

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El Monstero & The Tribute-Band Phenomenon

Last night I saw the most amazing rock show I’ve ever seen.  Local Pink Floyd tribute band/St. Louis heroes El Monstero didn’t just put on a concert, it was a full-on spectacle.  The music of Pink Floyd was faithfully performed with not only a band, but with classy female back-up singers, sax players, a children’s choir (you know what song that was for), and a bitchin’ laser show.  There were costume changes, towers of multi-colored flames, confetti cannons, and an honest-to-God 70’s mirror ball.  They also landed a helicopter for the opening of “Another Brick In The Wall.”

The alternate name for El Monstero should be “Pigs N’ Hammers.”

Back in the 1970’s, this level of excess was commonplace, but not so in today’s cash-strapped times.  Oh sure, you can see U2 put on a rock-spectacle, but they are one of the few bands big enough to pull-off (and afford) such dizzying overindulgent rock theatre.  I think gimmicks are stupid as a rule, but if you’ve got the music down, a little spectacle can push the amazing into the awesome (as in actually inspiring awe).

El Monstero is not a good Pink Floyd tribute band, they’re an exceptional one.  I don’t know if they sounded like Floyd sounded live, I am too young to know, what I can tell you is that El Monstero perfectly replicates the way the albums of Pink Floyd sound, in every single detail.  That by itself is no small feat, and worthy of much praise.  The band’s been around for over a decade here in St. Louis, slowly building a rabid fan-base.  Apparently the band started out in the (sadly gone) Mississippi Nights night club, playing for a few hundred people.  Last night, the band upped their game playing for a few thousand.  Rather than just “merely” replicating the sound of Pink Floyd, the band replicated the theatrical nature of the band, and their famous 70’s tours (like the one they did in support of THE WALL).  Equal parts rock show, opera, circus, and LSD trip, the concert at Riverport (aka The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater) blew just about every other tribute band I’ve seen out of the water.

Tribute bands are a funny thing.  On one hand, you have grown men dressing up like 20-something-Liverpudlians, singing “She Loves You” while praying their wigs don’t fall off.  At the other end of the spectrum, you have serious musicians studying, mastering, and performing classic rock–basically treating Pink Floyd like it’s Beethoven.  And why shouldn’t Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin be treated like Beethoven or Bach?  Why do some fans cringe at the mere mention of the term “tribute band”? Rock ‘n roll has always been about celebrity, but I think it was MTV that cemented the notion that anyone playing the songs of Pink Floyd that isn’t Pink Floyd are only imitators.  I find this funny, because when the St. Louis Symphony plays the music of Beethoven no one considers that to be “low rent” or “low brow.”  Or ridiculous.  A symphony isn’t imitating Beethoven; they’re just playing his music.

Part of the issue is the fact that, as I’ve said, rock music is just as much about personalities/celebrities as it is about music.  That’s petty and sad, but unfortunately the truth.  Another part of the issue, though, are how these tribute bands focus on the wrong elements of their act–I think it’s better for a band to replicate the sound of Led Zeppelin than to necessarily look like Led Zeppelin.  Many of the Beatles tribute bands that I’ve seen over the years fall into this trap, sacrificing quality of sound for quality of visual presentation. El Monstero, for example, don’t go out of their way to “become” Roger Waters or David Gilmour. They don’t mess with fake mustaches or wigs; instead they’re about recreating sounds.

*Sigh*

The spectacle I witnessed last night, while not a direct copy of a classic Pink Floyd concert, captured the essence of the band’s giant circus-like tours.  Rather than being actors sticking to a script, a great tribute band will use creative license to replicate the music.  I know that seems pretty obvious, but I’ve seen Beatles tribute bands that tell actual jokes John Lennon said at early Beatles concerts.  I’ve seen jittery “actors” playing Paul McCartney do mannerisms that Paul did on film, often doing these McCartney-isms 50 times during a performance because it was something that Paul actually did (even though there’s no way he was that fidgety).

One thing that takes the so-called “cheese factor” off of El Monstero is that the band doesn’t stumble onto the stage, with fake British accents, and pretend that they’re actually Pink Floyd.  Instead El Monstero is just a band that just happens to play Pink Floyd tunes.  As time marches on, and we lose more classic rock bands (and the people who’ve seen them in concert), I think the demand for professional tribute bands will greatly increase.  I also think the “stink” of being a tribute band will also lessen.  It may take a very, very long time…but if we don’t blow up the Earth with nuclear war, I can foresee a time when elegant men and women will go to their local Opera Houses to see professional musicians perform the works of Lennon and McCartney sans-stigma, like they were going to see a classical music concert.

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