Friday, August 22, 2008

Cover Bands

I was thinking the other night about LeRoi Moore, and how the Dave Matthews Band, in its original, most correct state, is done. The same is true for thousands of bands who've lost a member: Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers Band, Metallica, The Doors, Alice In Chains, and many more. Granted, Metallica's most popular days came after the loss of Cliff Burton, and the Allman Brothers Band still tours today, but to people who've followed the band since they became popular (like myself with regards to the Dave Matthews Band), the band is gone, and this is a new band with similar members.

Anyways, it got me to thinking about all of the bands who've broken up or lost members and who I'll likely never see in concert, and how that's a shame. Then I thought about the Michael McDonald concert I went to a few weeks ago (laugh if you like, but it was a good show), and how many of his most exciting songs were actually cover songs: Living For The City (Stevie Wonder), Into The Mystic (Van Morrison), Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen), Walk On By (Dionne Warwick), and several Motown songs. This is along the same lines as many jazz artists, who often play almost exclusively songs written by someone else. Jazz fans appreciate this; they get to hear familiar songs with a personal touch by the artists. But if you were to go to a rock show and the band played mostly cover songs, you'd be dissatisfied.

Or at least you think you would be. But say you went to a concert of a newer band, Wolfmother we'll say. They've got one album with 12 songs. Presumably they'll play more than 12 songs, so you're either going to hear songs you don't know, or covers. While I'm open to some new songs, it's always nice to hear familiarity. So if they played 8 of the songs from the album, plus assorted songs by their stated influences (Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The White Stripes), I don't think anybody would go home unhappy (unless of course they sucked, but we'll assume they play the songs reasonably well).

A couple of particularly interesting bands to cover (and two that support the point I'm about to make) are Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. Those are two bands who've broken up for good and lost former members to death (George Harrison and John Lennon from The Beatles, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin), and even if they hadn't, the living members are getting awfully old, and we can foresee a time when they're all dead and gone, or at least incapable of playing shows.

So should the band's music die with the band? Of course not. We own CDs, we bought songs on iTunes, some of us own records and cassettes, we know how to play the songs on guitar or bass or drums, we sing the songs. We know the songs won't die as long as we like them. But there's something different and special about hearing a song played by professional musicians, people who know the song inside and out. But if Led Zeppelin is gone, how will we ever be able to enjoy their music in a concert again?

Cover bands. Cover bands are the answer. I know what you're saying, "Cover bands are lame, they just play other people's music." Think about that, though. Most music today is derivative of some music played in the past. Some of it is more than derivative; some songs are simply rearrangements, identical songs with changed lyrics, or out and out cover songs. And we're generally okay with that. So why would we not give any credit to a cover band? They've got the chops to play the music, and we like the music (or at least we did when the original band played it). I understand that there's a concern for a quality drop-off with cover bands, but if it's a really good cover band full of folks who can really play the shit out of their instrument, what do I care?

I'm stating for the record, here and now, that I'd love to see a Doors cover band open for a Led Zeppelin cover band in a legitimate concert theater. I'd be willing to pay good money to see a 3-hour show by a Pink Floyd cover band. Hell, I did pay good money to see the Allman Brothers Band, and they've only got half of the original members. And historically, when I go to concerts where I don't know the band's music that well, cover songs are sometimes the highlight of the show. As humans, we appreciate familiarity.

Thus, my new dream is for a festival-style concert featuring only premium cover bands. You can pay them cheaply, and after a few stops, people will start to catch on. I'm gonna do it. I'm sooo gonna do it.

Okay, probably not, but I hope someone else does.

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