Cover bands. Artist dedicated to the careers of others. These are two words that can either illicit feelings of excitement over the potential of hearing a good live performance of “Immigrant Song”, or dread after your co-worker’s third Facebook invitation to see his Insane Clown Posse tribute band. Whenever you see “cover band” on a marquee, you take a gamble and hope for the best. This is the unfortunate stigma for tribute acts, but it doesn’t stop bands like Circle of Black, Crazy Diamond or newcomers Physical Graffiti from throwing a tribute show to the best of the 1970’s at Frogee’s Cocktail on April 21st.
While sitting in the dive bar on Highway 18, I thought about the prospect of cover bands. Most of them are born from boredom, but then most music is for that matter. Cover acts have served as a platform for many bands to preform and discover their own musical identities. Most original music is created from that approach, but many cover bands choose not to go that route. Many prefer the label “tribute” to cover band, as it does creates an important distinction. While many cover bands will reinterpret music in their own way, often with an underlying theme that ties into the persona of the band (think Me First and the Gimme Gimmes), tribute bands preform with little variation, sticking as closely to the original song, and identity of the band, as possible.
The first act of the evening was Crazy Diamond, a tribute to Pink Floyd. Wielding a set-list comprised of well-known songs like “Time”, “Money, and “Comfortably Numb”, the band started the evening off on a more somber note. Given that the two following bands were going to tributes to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, it was safe to assume this was probably the mellowest this evening would get as the crowd stubbornly refused to clap along with the band during a song, but “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” still managed to get the whole bar to sing, “We don’t need no education”. This is the power and influence of Pink Floyd, and the magic that bands like Crazy Diamond try to recreate.
Following them was our Led Zeppelin tribute band, Physical Graffiti, making their debut. Zeppelin is a fun band to cover musically, but tricky when it comes to vocals. This is mostly due to Robert Plant’s wide range and crisp high-pitch singing, but singer Johnnie Garcia performed admirably, taking on tracks like “Immigrant Song” and “Communication Breakdown” with ease. Another highlight from the set is the band stepping off stage during “Moby Dick”, leaving drummer Ron Davis to channel his inner John Bonham. All of this ended on “Stairway to Heaven”, which I was a little disheartened to hear, not because I don’t like the song, but because I had a great Wayne’s World reference that I can’t use now. Oh well, another time.
Capping off the evening was Circle of Black, a Black Sabbath tribute band that, according to their Facebook, also will hammer out some of Ozzy’s and Dio’s solo work as a way to celebrate not just the music of Black Sabbath, but the careers that started in its wake. Honestly, any excuse to play “Crazy Train” and “Holy Diver” is good enough for me. While we didn’t hear either of those tracks, it was nice to hear the Dio era of Black Sabbath get some appreciation for once.
Friday was not a night for originality, but for appreciation of an ear of rock now resting fifty years in the past. This year saw Black Sabbath bid farewell to their fans in March, so the prospect of seeing any of this music performed live is going to be through a tribute band. Some purist would look down on that idea, not willing to accept anyone else on the mic except Robert Plant or Ozzy Osbourne. While it is true that no one can ever suppress the talent or presence of bands like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, that is not the point of tribute bands. Tribute bands, if anything, serve to remind us why these songs are timeless and still need to be played, even if it’s not by the person who wrote it.