Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Tribute Bands Suck

The Dark Star Orchestra was at the Boulder Theater over the weekend, giving a bunch of young neo-hippies with ridiculous white-guy dreadlocks the chance to pretend they are at a Grateful Dead concert. My question is, even assuming everyone there was on drugs (a pretty good assumption) it still seems like a crazy idea to pay to see a band play songs exactly as another band used to play them. That's not art, it's theft!

The whole "Tribute Band" idea is a complete scam, that allows musicians without enough imagination to create their own music to make a living doing someone else's. If you had real talent, you'd make your own music.

Somehow, people get away with this lame mimicry in the music business. Can you imagine some other art form where people legally make a good living doing other's material? Name a re-make of a classic film that got any respect....and if it did, the director put a new twist on the film. Even better, think of my hobby of comedy. Rodney Dangerfield was hilarious, but is now unfortunately no longer with us. Can you imagine if I put on a white shirt, skinny tie, got some nervous ticks and started saying "I don't get no respect", calling myself a "Rodney Tribute Comic"? Even if I mimicked Rodney perfectly, would that get me booked in clubs around the country? I think fact, I hope not.

Yet tribute bands have national followings, and I'm sure there isn't a city in the country without at least one group of 4 guys, one of whom plays bass left-handed, who are trying to be the Beatles. And here is the absolute dumbest thing: They sell CD's! That's right, people pay good money to buy a CD of a bunch of hacks trying to copy the work of great artists, when they could buy the CD of the real band instead.

I guess P.T. Barnum was right!


PhishyPaul said...

Did you go to Dark Star? Seriously, they are amazing. A couple of years after Jerry died, I saw them at the Fillmore in San Francisco. With my head down and eyes closed, they took me back to a Grateful Dead show in 1976 I could have never dreamed of being, well, because I was 5 years old. Dark Star *usually* plays a show from the GD archives, adapting their equipment and tone to what the Dead was doing during that period. Their guitar player, while not Jerry, can rip it with the best and the Bobby is pure Rock and Roll cheese...just like Bob Weir. PArt of the fun is trying to figure out "which" show they are playing. Example: The last time I saw them, during set break, my brother had nailed the year and month, then when the first tune of the second set started "Samson and Delilah" which is only played on Sundays he nailed the exact date of the "Show" they were recreating. Anyway, other good tribute band include Hells Bells, four women rockin AC/DC, and Phix, a now defunct Phish tribute out of Boulder. I can't wait for a Yanni or Celine Dion cover band!

PhishyPaul said...

Oh yea, they do write their own music. And a "cover" movie that is better than the original......
Cape Fear.

travis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
travis said...

you must be right.

all those people that get to continue hearing their favorite music, faithfully reproduced by musicians that love the music just as much as they do, -even after the original artists are gone - are complete dumbasses.

face it pal.

people like the music they like. people like feeling a connection to specific songs and bands.

cover bands allow us to enjoy music as those did before, performed live.

it's been going on for a long time. for instance, when was the last time you heard an ORIGINAL orchestra? orchestras pride themselves on playing the CLASSICS, and doing it WELL.

it's an essential mechanism of the art world, a replicating factor which happens naturally, where the most favored areas of art or music are kept fresh and alive through living musicians, for a living audience.

this post is simply an opinion. and a poorly formed one.

good day.

Anonymous said...

Umm The Beatles did covers for years before the made it big.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I agree! It would make sense if tribute bands at least would be original enough to interpret the music differently. If they are making a parody that is really funny. If they at least change the style (for example an ABBA's song in heavy metal style). But I also never could understand why anybody would like to pay money to see a cheesy version of the son that he'd better would enjoy watching the original video in his own home theater?

I would rather check something new original. If it sucks at least they tried to be original and I feel better giving my money away to people that are trying to be creative, rather than some pathetic losers from so called "the most authentic tribute band".

katydevine said...

Well! At least I think a good tribute band should introduce something original - funny parody or different music style. The same song in "the most autenthic way" is pathetic.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. There isn't a day goes by that one of these ghastly outfits doesn't send me an unsolicited invitation on Facebook to attend one of there concerts - where I would have the appalling spectacle of hsving to watch someone imitate me badly. They are all f**king nuts!!

Anonymous said...

yeah sure...
and what about all those crappy "musicians" who aren't even able to do a decent cover and can't do anything else but make a lot of noise and then claim to be creative by making their own music. Piss off!!

Greg said...

I friggin hate cover/tribute bands. They're a joke. Unimaginitive and cheesey. The only thing worse than cover bands are the idiots that keep them in business.

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's my overly-educated-on- this-subject 9 cents.... they suck. Yep. Here's why. People suck. In general. They are stupid, and they don't want to listen to "new" music on a sound system where maybe they can't hear the lyrics well, or the lyrics might be about how they suck as living entities. They want same, same, same. I believe they should be tested and they should never get to go to a REAL show again. I've dated "real" and almostly other-worly talently musicians who play original music and no one gives a shit. They leave. There are a handful of successful original music venues in even the largest cities and towns. I try to run a bar in a town of about 2,000 people. The heartbreak I saw with the real artists I dated (and that was a college town of some 60,000 or 70,000) was enough to drive them to drink. Which it inevitably does. They become dependent on something and, well, then if they had some hits, maybe later an unoriginal idiot can minic what they did only they won't beat up the crowd, go bi-polar for their girlfriends to support or at least most show up sober and "professional" which honestly, goes together with artistic talent like a baby and an outlet switch and a passed out parent. Sad. Art does bring suffering and addiction. Cover and tribute bands bring idiots and talentless assholes who only want to take home some fake groupies who might close their eyes and pretend. Worst of all are the artists who can't get a fix by finding a musician to fall in love with musically to at least create some of that practice-time magic. I don't mean man/woman lust- I hope you understand, but musically matches to make what makes them understand why they were put on this planet other than to suffer and reproduce. I've heard it and I've seen it and it was more supernatureal than anything I have ever seen. Sadly, they usually lose the muse for too long or use the boose for even a while and it cause rifts and all of that. I've had some of the worst heartache in the world to experience that magic and unfortunately, I was pretty much thrown away for someone who never even saw the magic. I want to cry and throw up at the same time to talk about it.
Anyway, I got hooked up with a douche of all douches in a Johnny Cash cover band who proceeded to literally rape and beat and steal from me until there was almost nothing left of my body or soul. The name was The Cold Hard Cash Show and sadly, I used some of my media talents to help promote them and get them on "Tribute Band Week" on Letterman. In case anyone really wants to know where that came from... Letterman lives in the summer outside of a small town in Montana, he and used to enjoy the small town 4th of July party. He enjoyed the admittedly good opening band (those guys). The year before, our town ran out of money, and Dave bought evenyone in the county 4 free tickets to see Wille Nelson for Free. We had never had anything like that before. Well, the $25 dollar tickets to see these talented and cheating jackasses to play lead to a show one tenth the size, if that. He felt guilty, is what I guess and he created this to make up for not paying again. So, please share the why on that one. I was only used because I came from that place and I was humiliated and later found out that the drummer has a history of trying to hurt the girls he dates. I am the only one not scared enough of him to tell the cops and a lawyer my name, but there are many already and that is the ones who will talk. There was even another one he hurt after I tried to send him to jail. So, there you have it. Tribute bands suck because people suck, and they suck so bad that they don't even care if people die so they can "enjoy" them.

Anonymous said...

I just ran sound this last weekend at an outdoor festival for 3 days in Arlington, Tx. near the Ballpark in Arlington and Cowboy Stadium. I had to sit through a multitude of cover bands from a Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band to a Chicago tribute band to a Santana cover band and a Led Zeppelin tribute band. Enough is enough! I just don't understand basing your entire musical career copping another band's whole routine! It just demonstrates a complete lack of creativity, imagination or originality. They were all good musicians, covered the material reasonably well and were all decent performers as well as nice guys. My criticism has nothing to do with the members personally. Nevertheless, if I want to hear Zeppelin, Santana or Chicago all I have to do is flip on some lame assed Clear Channel owned commercial "classic rock" radio station if I want to heat those same songs over and over again. Being in a tribute band smacks of groupie hero worship. It's like saying that you aren't capable of doing your own material so you are just going to dress. look,act and sound like some already established, famous group to make your house payment or whatever. Boring!

Jeff Michael said...

Got news for you, ace. If you could totally nail a Rodney Dangerfield impersonation, you'd be begging your agent for nights off. I don't think it's necessarily right, good, healthy, whatever. But it's lucrative. Cat's gotta eat, ya know?

Anonymous said...

Tribute bands don't just cover songs, most go the whole hog and completely mimic their idols. In short they are fanatically charlatans - if they didn't possess the contrived minimal talent they use to recreate the orginal look and sound of the long gone authentic group they would be crazy obsessive fans - these insecure failed artists would be categorised as having deep rooted obsessive personalty disorders. The orginal blogger was correct - the actual people that go to these shows and pay money to watch them deserve even less respect.

Anonymous said...

Having played professionally in two Grateful Dead cover bands while actually seeing the Grateful Dead live (yes that means when Jerry was alive, you fools), I can safely say cover bands are a boil on the butt of popular music. They serve only to provide nostalgia for those who have no memory.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I'm going to copy it and put it on my blog as a tribute.

Anonymous said...

Tribute acts are glorified cover bands. So are you suggesting musicians should never play covers? What about name acts that record cover versions of songs- is that ok, and if so, why?

If there wasn't a demand for tribute/cover acts, this would be a non-issue. Blame the general public.

Anonymous said...

....and I guess orchestras equally suck for playing "covers" of classical composers.

Anonymous said...


It's kind of amazing to me that this attitude exists. It's sour grapes, for one, and it's also not based in any kind of reality. Having been a part of the "tribute band" scene for the last couple of years now, I haven't encountered one musician who lacks imagination or talent. At present, three of our members are in original bands, and the other three were in original bands (and the reason we're not in original bands anymore is not because of lack of talent, but rather because we have children and/or elderly parents for whom we are caring, and therefore have limited time to play out).

I've met IT specialists, teachers, writers, actors, web designers and photographers who are in tribute bands. I've met people in tribute bands who are classically-trained musicians, playing in symphonies.

So, what, dude - you're actually going to tell me that someone who's a principal cellist playing Debussy and Schumann has no "real talent" because he also happens to play in a tribute band?

Here's an idea: we play in tribute bands because we love the music, love the artists, and love playing the artists' music. Also? It's frigging FUN.

In short, I could spend hours picking apart your mean-spirited, elitist little tirade, but I'll just sum it up thus: Lighten up, Francis.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with you and I especially like how you used DSO as an example. I'm a (original) musician and Jerry Garcia is a huge musical influence of mine.

DSO is clearly one of the most pathetic tribute bands out there. Last time I looked these clowns were charging $25-30 a ticket. You're a real sucker if you want to pay THAT much to basically hear a copy of something. And there are actual "neo-deadhead" hippie kids that tour around with them LOL

Nothing wrong with covering songs but when you're profiting from copying an artist's unique style it's just plain tacky.

Really the creative ingenuity of a lot of these tribute bands is on the same scale as some silly Elvis impersonator. Tribute bands should all be banished to Las Vegas because they are merely a novelty.

Think about it, would you pay to see a copy of the Mona Lisa? Or better yet you might as well just take a picture of a Picasso and tell everyone "Hey look what I made!"

Anonymous said...

To anonymous who started with "sigh.". I'd go at it with you. Tribute bands are for decent players who cannot write.

Not that they have no real talent...just not compositional talent. The whole point of being a musician is your creativity, not necessarily your musical prowess nor technical ability. This is why Taylor swift is far more listenable and popular than Dream Theater.

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of a tribute car? Take an old car, paint it, put on some badges, and you can pretend it's something that it isn't. At least til you try to sell it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a musician, fifty years young and been in original bands all my life, yeah we do covers in our set, but we can't no matter how we try get them to sound like the originals, and believe me the other guys in the band are f++kin great players who have also been playing for years. And this isn't just us, I've seen plenty of tributes and covers acts over the years and none of them can do 'Come Together' like the Beatles, or Whole Lotta Rosie, like AC/DC, no matter how many people will tell you 'band x song like Blondie / Motorhead / The Dead / Pink Floyd etc' They never do, they just look and sound like third rate Karaoke performers at a fancy dress party.

So we tend to 're-interpret' the few covers we do, our version of Come Together sounds more like Alex Harvey than the Beatles, when we do Enola Gay (the OMD track) we punk it up, double speed and give it shed loads of London '77 attitude. And find that people like it that way, they say we bring something fresh to the tunes rather than the same old same old.

Now there is a place for the bar room cover band,a group of passable musos knocking out a few standards in the corner while your enjoying a pint is ok, (providing they can actually play - and believe me there are a lot that can't) But to me tribute acts are a the ultimate depth of a depraved musical sterile society, where people would rather pay to see a bank manager, a teacher and plumber pretending to be ZZ Top, that go out explore their local music scene and find the next ZZ Top,

And believe me there is a shed load of talent out there, I do a music show on my local radio station playing new bands from across the world, and I can safely say there is a wealth of great new bands out there, in every genre and sub genre you care to mention you mention, you just gotta go out and find them.

But sadly as a gigging musician, I can say tribute bands are stiffing this talent, and tribute band fans are party to this. In many towns and cities these days, a good up and coming band can't get the exposure, or the higher profile gigs cos the venues would rather book a tribute band that would pull a load of braindead so called music fans who are content to sup third ersatz sounds of a someone famous than try something new. This is killing music, and its not sour grapes from me. My band do ok, we have our following, our regular haunts and sell enough albums to get by, after all at our age we aint after the big time, but for new young up and coming acts it is becoming a real problem. And if no new talent comes through, where is the music of tomorrow, are we destined to live in a world full of bands paying third rate 'tribute' to dinosaur rock bands of 40 yeas ago... it could well go that way.

Finally a true story. Not going to mention names, but I have a very good friend who was drummer in a high respected and influential blues / progressive rock band in the early 70's. A few years ago they decided to reform for a few gigs just for old times sake. They started to book a tour and kept getting told 'sorry we only book tributes' and when they were offered bookings it was for a pittance, £200 tops (yup I'm in the UK), so in a moment of Devilment they got back to some of these venues saying they were a tribute band playing the music of said high respected and influential blues / progressive rock band... they were offered a shed load of gigs and offered fees up to 10 times what the same venues were offering for the real thing!! To me that is just wrong, and a sign of the damage the whole tribute band culture is doing to music.

Anonymous said...

Why hate on anyone that loves to play music? Music makes life easier to deal with! People love to hear their favorites when they go out, they love to sing along.
Also, a DJ gets paid almost as much as a bar/cover band, so why not hear the music from a band if they are good enough to play a song well?

The only hating I would do on cover bands, is

A) if you are traveling a hundred miles or less for all of your gigs, and you do it year round... Don't say you are on tour! Idiots
B) Don't call yourselves the hottest band in the area if you haven't won a vote saying such. Idiots
It's these kinds of guys with huge egos that make cover bands in general look like idiots.

Grow up guys, if you want to be the hottest band, and be on tour, most likely you better write a few killer originals first.
Otherwise call it what it is, you're a bar band entertaining the weekend drinkers, and you will never be more than that as long as you do what you do.

Anonymous said...

I see over 50 live music acts a year. Large venues,small venues,theaters, and bars. The cover bands I seek out are bands I can no longer see. I love the fact that their music can still be performed. I understand it's not the real thing and usually admire how well most of them perform the music. Performance art and specifically music has the ability to continue past it's original time. Rock and roll/modern music has just started to create a history. The classic songs and performers are going to be tested to see who stands the test of time. Many performers will try their hand at these classics as they have in Dance,theater,opera and music.
Your logic would dismiss any actor in a broadway play other then an original show or one they wrote. Shakespeare is performed by actors because the material test their skills. A performance classic is defined as provon content.The performing artist must prove they are up to presenting the material at the level the audience is expecting. Have fun and enjoy LIVE music of all types.

Anonymous said...

"Why Bloggers Suck".