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Mock Star

Tribute bands are deja-vu all over again

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His name was Jim and he wore leather pants with a silky, loose, beatnik shirt. His dark shoulder length hair curled at the ends and when I approached him, he looked up at me with haunting, dark eyes. He pushed away the journal he had been writing in and gently took my hand and caressed it with his. He whispered lines of erotic poetry in my ear then told me he was in a band. He promised if I was to stay and watch his performance, I'd be swept away to another world.

While his passionate attempt to woo me nearly caused me to blush, his band, who sat separately from their leader on the other side of the room, had warned me of his provocative and flirtatious nature. And after all, I was just a waitress who was only trying to get a drink order from this Jim whose band, a Doors tribute act, was playing at the club.

For performers of original music, holding your mic stand in a similar manner as one of your peers may come innocently, but there are some, however, who strive to mimic every expression, every pose and every exact movement their favorite rock star makes. These are most often the folks, like my friend Jim, who make up so-called "tribute acts," groups who solely perform the material from one particular performer or band. And if you don't think there's much interest or support for this particular genre, just do a websearch for Tribute Acts and you'll find dozens of links to agencies across the US, Canada and the UK who specialize in booking these acts for various clubs and events.

Last year, Mark Wahlberg (former rapper/current actor) starred in Rock Star, which relates the tale of a singer who goes from fronting a tribute band to the actual band he has idolized. In the movie, Wahlberg's bandmates from the tribute band accuse him of being overly obsessed with his rock idol and eventually boot him out of the group. Of course, the real band finds itself looking for a lead singer around the same time (the story loosely takes its cue from a real-life incident involving Judas Priest), and Wahlberg's dream becomes a reality. The dream, however, turns into a nightmare once Wahlberg realizes he can't live his life trying to be someone else.

Of course, that was the movies; in actuality, many for the most part get along just fine with being in a tribute act. In fact, several make a fairly decent living playing other people's stuff and some even manage lengthy careers doing it.

Club owner John Ellison of Amos' Southend has recently found a niche in booking tribute bands. "I've found I have to build a following with them, but with each band's performance, attendance does seem to increase," he says.

A tribute band that's done well from the start, though, is the Athens, GA-based Dave Matthews Cover Band. "They sell out every time they play here," Ellison declares. "The college kids love them, and the guy really looks and sounds like Dave Matthews.

"I also had the Pink Floyd tribute band, The Wall, in here recently for the first time, and people came up to me all night long raving about how good they sounded," Ellison continues. "People were actually amazed. I've got "em coming back in November, and I'm expecting a lot more people to show up, too."

Other tribute bands he's booked have covered such classic rock acts as Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Kiss and Aerosmith.

According to Ellison, the crowd does change with each of the bands. He even notes that some of the downtown hipsters come to "let their hair down" for some of these shows. "I think it's a chance for people to come and see someone who sounds almost as good as one of their favorites groups for a much lower price than an actual concert ticket," he opines.

The Boston-based Aerosmith tribute band, Draw The Line, has been at it since 1991. During their career, they've been honored by MTV as one of the Top Tribute Acts in the nation, and better yet, Aerosmith has officially recognized the band and given them their blessing. Each of the members have also met with the actual Aerosmith member they portray, and some on more than one occasion. Lead singer Neill Byrnes' first meeting with Tyler was the result of him winning a look-alike contest (go figure), which was actually before Draw The Line had been formed. But Tyler has been out to see the band and the two have met again since.

Although there are plenty of tribute bands out there who do spend countless hours poring over video tapes and recordings of the artists they emulate, there are others who do it simply for the fun of it, adding their own twist to the music. "Astro" from the Charlotte Kiss cover band KLOWN (and no, they don't freak when the word cover is used) explains how the group came together.

"We all play in different bands," he explains, "and one day we were sitting around and realized we had a whole band worth of people that might not be playing music if it wasn't for Kiss. For a good six months, we got together a couple of times and played for fun, then it kind of snowballed into this whole thing. We realized we couldn't be a typical tribute band, and we didn't want to be. One reason being our "Paul Stanley' is 6'6" tall and weighs 250 pounds. Secondly, as much as we love tribute bands, every time we see one, we pick "em apart. That's the beauty of not being a typical one. Our possibilities are endless. We come up with new ideas every day."

Byrnes, who also has plenty of fun fronting DTL (and who wouldn't, when countless numbers of female fans throw their bras onstage for the band night after night regardless of the fact that they're not quite the real deal), makes an important point in taking the job a bit more seriously. "The reason I've done it for as long as I have is that the band has made a difference in many people's lives. And as long as we're still making an impact in people's lives, then there's still reason for us to continue to do this."

If you'd like to try the tribute experience, Amos' Southend will host Battery: The Masters of Metallica on August 17 and Hotter Than Hell: The Ultimate Kiss Tribute Band on August 24. For more details, check amossouthend.com or call the club at 704-377-6874. Also, KLOWN, along with another Kiss tribute band, Kiss Army, will perform at the 1st Annual Charlotte Kiss Expo being held at the Hilton University Place on August 25. Tickets cost $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Call 678-455-7891 to order tickets.

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