When Is It Over?

Recently, a colleague told me that he’d seen Paul McCartney’s tour. During our conversation, he pointed out that McCartney had put together a “really good Beatles’ cover band.” Which seemed somehow wrong to me. After all, is Paul McCartney covering the Beatles when he is doing a Beatles’ song that he wrote and sang and performed on despite the fact that the other three members are absent? What are the specific characteristics of a live performance that make it a performance of a group? When does it become something else, be it a tribute, a cover, or a parody?

Later this summer, the members of the Grateful Dead will perform. Sans Jerry, of course. They will not be going out as the Grateful Dead, but as “The Other Ones.” Another colleague, who has seen the Dead a multitude of times, has been receiving plenty of phone calls from his far-flung pals, all of whom are professionals of one sort or another, not the free-wheeling ne’er –do-wells that they were when they slept in the backs of cars and picked up hitchhiking women in Las Vegas. They are making plans to go to Alpine Valley to see the show. My colleague has gotten permission from his wife—which certainly wasn’t a requirement when he attended all of those other shows. Times change, of course. While the name of the band that will be performing is not the Dead, while he knows that Garcia is irreplaceable, fundamentally, I’m sure, although he may not admit it, he will probably add the attendance at the Wisconsin performance—or performances—to his list, if not publicly, then at least in his mind. Sure, it may have a mental asterisk, but it will certainly be a Dead show in his head.

So I began to think. . .

Imagine a musical group with four members. We’ll call each member B, A, N and D. These individuals record discs and play on stage. They gain both visibility and success. Admirers and acclaim. As a group, B, A, N and D are said to be more than the sum of the parts.

But as often happens, A decides she’s had enough. She leaves the group. She is replaced by O.

So B, O, N and D continue. Although the band was originally shakened by A’s departure, the mix works with barely a stir among their fans and sales. They perform their original music and record some new material that is similarly successful.

After a couple more years, D has had enough. So he leaves. He is replaced by E. B, O, N and E perform the music the group has been doing from the start and spend time in the studio doing more work that wins them awards and new fans.

Time marches on. An unfortunate accident-cum-drug overdose results in N’s bloated corpse to be pulled from a wrecked Tilt-A-Whirl car. Not wanting to let their fans down (to say nothing of their bank accounts), the remaining members of the band rapidly sign up a serious session player, P. Things go their way with nary a blip (although there is a number of fans who have turned N into an icon—of sorts).

After 10 years, B has burned out. Which is somewhat troubling. But the remaining members convince D to return. He has been doing solo work in the years since his departure and has been doing well. With his return, it is like lightning striking again. The success and adulation are at an all time high.

Here is the question: is D,O,P,E the same as B,A,N,D? If not, at what point did the change occur? Is it a cover band? Is it something else? And how can we know?

24 thoughts on “When Is It Over?”

  1. As ever, my thoughts go both ways – some bands fall apart with just one change, others can continute to rock with a revolving door centered around one guy.Jake – Since N was in BAND, does that make NOPE the same as DOPE?

  2. no. i think dope moved on from being band when O came in. like you said, they were ‘more than the sum of the parts.’ to me, band was evolving as a member leaving and another coming in.

  3. The question has been asked before: If you replace the handle of your knife next week then replace the blade of your knife next month, is it still the same knife?Long Live Rock! (The Who)Very pretty layout, by the way: I can’t make head or tail of the background but I like the color.

  4. While I’ve got nothing particularly insightful to add I did want to say that I enjoyed reading this, it was both comical and thought provoking, I’m glad I dropped by :o)

  5. I think it depends whether the band has one songwriting, multi-instrumentalist visionary or if it’s a band that has multiple inputs into the songwriting process. Also, the vocals are a necessity! Once they leave, I think the bands is kaput. 10,000 Maniacs, Van Halen, the other bands . . .

  6. Example of a band that can have a significant change in lineup and still be a good band: Wilco. One that can’t: CCR. You can’t lose the singer/songwriter/lead guitarist/producer and still call yourself the same band (e.g., John Fogerty). However, any band that is around for several years is going to be different than when it started regardless of lineup changes, just because people change over time. Musical interests change, personal interests change. It’s called growth. On the other hand, one band that has never changed despite losing its frontman and being around for thirty years is AC/DC. Every single AC/DC album sounds exactly the same. No growth, no change. And the fans LOVE it. Go figure.

  7. Yeah, AC/DC. Do you think maybe it’s the logo with the lightning bolt running through it? There’s the power source, right there. Fans see that logo of theirs on the new CD and they know that something inside is gonna ROCK ‘EM.Scorpions and Def Leppard pulled something similar to AC/DC, only they were replacing lead guitar players. They did alright. Well, Scorpions did alright. Def Leppard did ballads.

  8. Surely if O joins the band, he/she is part of the band? But a good point – McCartney can’t be accused of “covering” his own songs! By the way, the colour makes my eyes hurt.

  9. I think there’s an inherent difference in old AC/DC vs. new AC/DC. Sure the main fanbase notices nothing, but the old albums have a sense of pure debauchery that seems to be missing from the new stuff. I still listen to Highway to Hell in the privacy of my own home when I’m feeling charged up with testosterone.

  10. hmmm…interesting question you pose…i’d have to say that the answer is no, but what matters is the quality of the music. nine times out of ten, however, the musical quality lacks and it sounds really bad. so i don’t think these bands should even exist. by the way, the band dope is horrible. absolutely terrible. anywho, nice blog. interesting stuff. i dig the background being the clash’s london calling. i guess that’s it.

  11. Kelly: Use the clever search engine to discover GloNo on Nirvana. . .and much, much more.Nari: 75% of the original and yet something new?Wookin’: Is that Bryan Adams question?Kevin: Yes, Dope is bad. . .but went platinum.

  12. Is D,O,P,E the same as B,A,N,D? Well… it depends what you ultimately desire in terms of the ‘musical performance’… is it a faithful note-perfect recreation of BAND’s records or a looser, less easily defined rendition of the MUSIC (as opposed to RECORD) as a living, breathing, evolving thing? One could say that the various latter-day successors to the Dead (i.e. the Other Ones, RatDog, Phil & Friends) conform to the latter description, whereas Paul’s group is closer to the former, but that’s OK too since the bulk of his fans’ frame of reference to the material is closer to the studio originals anyway. As a Paul fan and a Dead fan, I may add that the only flaw in Macca’s performance was in its flawlessness! To me, a bit of flubs, clinkers, and other various ‘clams’ are what makes a live performance special. Getting back to whether DOPE is the same thing as BAND, it helps if you approach a band as you would a sports team. It’s possible to be a Yankee fan, although the team is not the lame lineup as it was in the days of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, & Mantle, but the spirit of the team still remains in a sense. If a band’s spirit/gestalt/whatever is similar, why not so for music?

  13. “OOPS!!! I meant SAME, (not LAME) …” “a bit of flubs, clinkers, and other various ‘clams’ are what makes a live performance special.” See, Corey, GloNo is a live performance in its own way, too.

  14. I think Oasis is a great example showing that if the key players remain, the band is the same. McCartney playing a McCartney Beatles song is fine, but playing a Lennon Beatles song is a cover, my friends.

  15. This is one of those case-by-case studies, but in general, I agree with Prop’s first post up there; it depends on whether or not the band has a single songwriter/frontman/visionary. The Beach Boys haven’t been the same since Brian Wilson checked out, but Wilco is down to two remaining original members, but since it’s always kind of been Jeff’s band, regardless of the important and wonderful contributions of Jay Bennett, it’s still pretty much Wilco. However, losing a flamboyant frontman like David Lee Roth seriously altered the make-up of Van Halen to the point where you almost wish they would’ve changed the name. But McCartney playing Beatles songs doesn’t strike me as a cover band since he’s probably doing “Paul’s” songs.

  16. at a recent ratdog most of bobbys music got me high. than he sang standin on the moon and that kinda gave me the creeps. 1n 100 years if someone covers that song it won’t matter. why they would want to is anybodys guess.

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