Tag Archives: tribute bands

To a Musician Not Dying Young

Recently I was with a few people from southern California who had come to musical maturity in the ‘70s. I learned that there is a robust “tribute” or “cover” band scene there. One of the women I was with had been a backup singer in a Segar tribute band. It seems, she explained, that many of the people in these bands are unsuccessful in getting their own music to break and so they perform—or could that be “pretend”—as others.

So there are bands like the Dark Star Orchestra, the Australian Pink Floyd Show, The Fab Four, Nervana, and multitudes more.

In many cases it is not enough to have a note-for-note rendition of the original band in question, but some of these tribute bands cover themselves in the clothing and the hairstyle of the individual musicians making up the bands in question.

(Of course, the Iron Maidens have a look that doesn’t duplicate the original for obvious reasons.)

We will not see the Beatles again. Not Pink Floyd or Nirvana. And while the situation with the Dead is uncertain, Jerry’s not going to be on stage.

And the music created by the originals is often so good that it exists independently of the people who made it in the first case, so it could be the case that there are several people who go to the clubs who have no idea of what’s being covered and when they leave they go home and download “Katmandu.”

Which is certainly a good thing for all concerned, be it the tribute band, the listener or, in this case, Seger.

But there was a comment that one of the people made that struck me as being odd and in some ways unsettling, a comment that was agreed to by the others in attendance: “Well, we can’t see the originals any more so this is just as good.”

Is it? Really?

Without going all Walter Benjamin and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical [Digital] Reproduction,” doesn’t authenticity matter?

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Dark Star Orchestra Live in Detroit


Dark Star Orchestra at the Majestic Theater
Detroit, February 9, 2012

Detroit in February is cold. Not necessarily a place you want to visit. But on a windy and bitter Thursday night, music hungry deadheads converged on the Majestic Theater in Detroit. Dark Star Orchestra was in town. And the audience got what they came for: two sets of well articulated, passionately played Grateful Dead music. A little bit of summer for a short 3 hours to help us through the tail end of a Michigan winter.

It was my first time at the Majestic Theater in Detroit. Despite the cold and the wind, the line into the venue was practically around the block at its longest, right after they opened the doors. In reality, the long line wasn’t actually to get in. It was to get a wristband if you wanted to drink (the show was 18 and over). At least in Michigan, people are willing to tolerate a little blast of cold if it means they can get their drink on the rest of night.

I got in early enough that I got to see the venue floor relatively empty. Like any place with a bar and live music, it wasn’t the cleanest place in the world. And it’s pretty drab inside. No balcony, no architectural touches to marvel at. To top it off, without a balcony or a graded ground floor, there are really no good sight lines to the stage unless you’re pretty close to the front.

That said, once the music gets going, the Majestic is a nice venue. The sound is pretty balanced, not a lot of reverb off the walls, and it accommodates a crowd of 1,600+ while keeping easy access to the bars, which line the back wall and one side of the venue. Never a long line when you need a thirst quencher.

The set lists for this show are outstanding. There’s not a “I think I’m going to go get a beer” song in the bunch. The band kicked off the first set with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” a common opener for the Dead. This was followed by a rockin’ “Sugaree,” then Bobby’s country masterpiece, “Mexicali Blues.”

With those song selections, it felt like a 77 show to me at that early stage. Maybe that’s because I had been listening to the 1977 Mosque show, which was just released as Dave’s Picks, Vol 1, in my car on the way to the show. In any event, that turned out not to be the case. It was actually a show from 1973 – March 22 at Utica Memorial Auditorium. Just weeks after Pigpen died, and during Mickey Hart’s hiatus from the band. It was a transitional year in Grateful Dead history. Pigpen was gone, the repertoire was expanding in several different directions, and they were still adjusting to Mickey’s absence.

Both set lists had a strong country flavor to them, beginning with “Mexicali Blues” as the third song in the first set, which also included the George Jones classic “The Race is On” and Marty Robbin’s “El Paso.” The second set rounds things out with “Big River” plus “Me and My Uncle.”

And it wasn’t just a country celebration, of course. The first set crescendoed with a “China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider” sequence followed by a “Playin’ In The Band” that left the crowd exhausted and ready for the set break. And the second set was dominated by a rocking “Truckin’ -> The Other One -> Eyes of The World” sequence, which wound down with a soothing “China Doll.”

“You Ain’t Woman Enough” was a particular treat. It was the biggest surprise of the show. I’ve always enjoyed Donna’s singing, but you don’t see her take the lead vocal spot very often. With Dark Star Orchestra, it’s always a treat when Lisa Mackey (who plays the Donna Jean Godchaux role in the band) gets center stage. So I’m glad they picked this particular show to cover. Really an inspired choice.

The band, as usual, was outstanding. Only one of the drummers — Dino English — played the show, since the original show was sans Mickey Hart. The arrangements are tight when they need to be, and they know how to inhabit a jam. And they’re good at bringing the crowd with them, which, to be fair, is pretty easy since we’re all a bunch of easily excitable deadheads, and we know all the cues, and all the lyrics.

This show was early in a 25 show tour for these guys. They tour relentlessly. Always on the road. I don’t know how they do it. Take a look at their tour schedule. Granted, some are 2013 dates, but still… These guys are one of the hardest working bands on the jam band touring circuit. And that’s saying a lot. They are extremely tight. Go see them if they’re coming around your way.

Photos by Mike Vasquez. See more here.

Notes on the Viability of Imitation

Nobody knows...I once attended a corporation-sponsored reception in Hollywood. As “entertainment” there were people who make their living—or at least part of it—through a physical- and costume-based resemblance to dead people. In this case, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and Humphrey Bogart. The breathiness of Monroe, the zaniness of Lucy, and the ill-fitting-dentures-curtness of Bogey are all clues that we identify vis-à-vis the individuals’ personae. (I wonder what someone not familiar with Ball or Bogart would make of these versions; Marilyn is simply a universal: even if who she “is” isn’t recognized, what she is is evident.) During their “act” at the reception, they were not performing specific roles or scenes that are associated with the people whom they were imitating, nor were they even playing scripted roles. Instead, they borrowed distinctive cues that served as the basis of their imitations.

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