Tribute bands

Last night I went to see ‘Nervana‘, a tribute band to everyone’s favourite Seattle based grungey beat combo, Nirvana. Regular readers will note that I’m not the biggest fan of guitars in the world, and it may come as little surprise that I’m not exactly massively into Nirvana, but I was willing to give it a go.

For what it’s worth, I thought they were alright. Their ‘Kurt’ – Jonny O’Connor, an Irish guy who used to be the lead singer for the Nirvana tribute band ‘Breed’ but then joined the bassist and drummer from ‘Australian Nirvana’ to form ‘Nervana’ then the guitarist from ‘Breed’ joined forces with the singer from ‘Teen Spirit’ to form ‘Nearvana’ and the drummer started a side project tribute called ‘Moo Fighters’ or something – does an uncanny job at aping the style of the actual Kurt. And his voice sounds bang on in my opinion, though as I said, I’m not necessarily the best judge of that.

The crowd (all 50 of them) seemed to like it. I counted at least 6 people jumping around and 2 separate, unique incidents of what I think is called ‘head banging’. Seriously, it got all mosh girl up in there for a minute or so.

Most people watching did seem a bit stunned at the end after the band went on a mini (read: mini) rampage, throwing mics and guitars across the stage in their best impersonation of.. err.. Nirvana(?) in the 90’s. I read somewhere once that Kurt Cobain used to do it on a nightly basis and then spend the next day fixing his guitar ready for the following show, where he’d do it again. Rinse, repeat. I wonder if fake Kurt is as adept at on-the-road guitar repairs.

The whole thing got me wondering about what the point of tribute bands is. The kind folk over at urban dictionary have ‘tribute band‘ classed as;

A sad waste of space ‘musical’ combo who so despirately want to be like their musical heros they try to impersonate them and ended up being paid far more than their worth for doing it.

It sounds harsh but I’m inclined to agree. I think that was actually the first time I’d seen a tribute act. I don’t really get it. I mean, I understand that people like the music of certain bands and if they can’t see that particular band (if for instance, the lead singer shot himself in the face), the only way of getting that ‘live’ experience is to see a group of other people play the songs. But is the ‘live’ experience even up to scratch? Last night, the crowd seemed like they liked the music, but they were definitely pretty subdued. In fact, I think it was the most casual gig I’ve ever been to. Most people looked like there were there for the music, not the band (obviously), and that was reflected in the lack of audience participation. I reckon there would’ve been a better reaction if it’d just been a club night that played Nirvana songs for 2 hours. I dunno. Maybe ‘Nervana’ do shows where people go mental like it was the real Nirvana, but there was little of that on display last night. They played the songs really well, they sounded like the real thing, they sort of looked like the real thing, but they lacked any of the spark of the real thing.

I wonder if I’d feel differently if it was a band / genre that I liked more. (My wife definitely enjoyed last night more than I did, but even she was quieter than when we’ve gone to watch actual real life bands that she likes.) I’d be curious to find out. The venue (Mr Kyps, Poole) seems to specialise somewhat in tribute bands, with the next couple of months seeing visits from ‘The Bowie Experience’, ‘Fleetwood Bac’, ‘Oasis + Stone Roses Tribute’, ‘P!nk goes Gaga’, ‘The Fillers’, ‘Purple Rain (Prince Tribute)’, ‘Beegees Fever’, ‘An Evening With Suspiciously Elvis’, ‘Apart From Rod’, ‘Kings Ov Leon’, ‘Legend – Bob Marley Tribute’, ‘Definitely Mightbe’ and ‘The Rat Pack’. That’s just up to the end of December. Seriously.

Unfortunately however, there’s a distinct lack of any hip-hop tribute acts there. You might say ‘that’s because no-one wants to listen to hip-hop!’. Yes. That’s why. No-one listens to hip-hop. In fact, I’ll have you know that despite Mr Kyps’ impressive forays into race relations and diversity, there are hip-hop tribute acts out there. Sort of. A cursory glance at that google came up with ‘Too White Crew‘ and ‘The Black Eyed Teas‘. The former are like a touring version of Mr Schuester from Glee, with questionable ‘hip-hop classics’ by Tone Loc and Snow. Their set list seems to have been taken from this article on ‘Glee’s Ten Most Cringe-Worthy Rap Moments‘. No lie. But at least they have the occasional Cypress Hill, Eric B & Rakim or Public Enemy moments so they might be quite good. ‘Black Eyed Teas’ though… Deary me. Why anyone would think that the Black Eyed Peas needed to receive tribute, I have no idea, but at least they look and sound exactly like the real thing. Oh wait.


Words fail me.

The lack of hip-hop tribute acts must go back to the unwritten rule that you don’t bite. Even using a line that someone else has said is sort of frowned upon (if you do it too much. The occasional nod is perfectly acceptable), let alone stealing entire catalogues and making money off of ‘touring’ somebody elses work. It’s odd actually, that an artform that relies so heavily on samples and re-appropriation, is so underrepresented in the tribute arena. There’s a gap in the market there. ‘New-Tang Clan’ anyone?

Nah, I’m more than happy to listen to a CD or watch a video in lieu of seeing some randoms cover my favourite group’s biggest hits. Yeah, it’s not the same as going out, watching live music, enjoying the atmosphere etc.. but neither is watching a tribute band. It’s basically paying for the privilege of listening to a badly dubbed tape in a crowd of people. Give me the real thing any day.

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