Last night I had the chance to check out a new local tribute band. I don't want to say who they are right now, even though I have some severe criticisms of them, because it was only their second show. I will say that the singer had his part down, and if the rest of the band catches up to him, they could end up being one of the best for their particular band.
But last night's show got me thinking about a couple of things. First, I really wish that I could sometimes turn off my inner critic and just enjoy a show. This band had people singing and dancing around, and generally enjoying reliving fond old memories. Meanwhile, I was standing there eviscerating them in my head. I know I've irritated friends who have come up to me at shows saying, "isn't this band awesome??" only to have me say, "ehh, the drummer is off, and the guitar is out of tune, and that last song went on for a minute longer than it should have." It would be nice, for once, to say, "yeah, they are awesome, because they're making me feel good."
Secondly, I thought a lot about various tribute bands, and what it takes to be good. I admit I have a soft spot for tributes, especially if they're well-done. Some of the best I've seen include locals Appetite for Destruction, the Thin Lizzy tribute that the members of The White Octave did, and a French-Canadian band that did an incredibly theatrical tribute to the first two Genesis albums. The Journey tribute that came to Kings a few years ago had an amazing singer who sang and looked just like Steve Perry, and had the entire audience of bored hipsters singing along at the top of their lungs.
I've also seen some pretty bad tributes, mostly by bands that seemed unfamiliar and even disdainful of the bands they were covering. The key to a good tribute, other than having a singer or guitarist that can really nail someone else's parts, is an almost stalkerish passion for a certain band. I once saw a Rush tribute band whose "Geddy Lee" told me he once had the opportunity to meet his idol, but couldn't because he didn't feel worthy enough to be around him, or something like that. That's actually really sad, and I'm sure this guy's friends were all a little worried about his obsession, but it made for a good tribute.
Keep in mind, I'm not talking about bands that do something clever with their tribute, like the various ethnic Elvises out there. Or about the all-female tributes to certain metal bands. I'm talking about bands that try to do it straight and fail miserably.
So, here's my personal list of what it would take to make good tributes to various bands.
KISS: Do you ever see KISS tributes anymore? I guess the reunion killed them off. Anyway, you don't need to be great players in a KISS tribute, but you have to have excellent costumes and pyrotechnics, and you have to have the moves and the banter down. It would be good if your bass player had a long tongue, but that's really not that necessary.
Guns 'n' Roses: Someone who looks and sings like Axl, and someone who looks and plays like Slash. and good costumes on everyone else.
Motley Crue: You'd need an OK singer, an excellent drummer, and, for at least part of the show, the early '80s costumes.
Judas Priest: A great singer and lots of leather.
Iron Maiden: A great singer and a phenomenal bass player.
Van Halen: A good, hammy singer and a phenomenal guitar player
Thin Lizzy: An Afro-ed bass player who knows Phil's moves and one really good guitar player.
AC/DC: Ideally, two singers, because I don't believe one guy should do both eras, unless he changes clothes and moves mid set. Also need a short guy who can play really well while running around like crazy, and a really tight drummer.
Black Sabbath: Good costumes, a left-handed guitar player, and a chubby guy who can mumble and shuffle like Ozzy.
Jimi Hendrix: You absolutely must be black, left-handed and an amazing guitarist. Otherwise, don't even think about it.
Led Zeppelin: One of the hardest. the only part you could possibly skimp on would be the bass, but a real fan would know.
Queen: THE hardest. You would have to have someone who could sing and prance like Freddie Mercury, as well as an amazing guitar player. You could possibly skimp on the drums, but you would have to have a good bass player.