Local bands play their heroes, just for one day
October 26, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Deep in the heart of every Chicago rocker--no matter how cool or affected, how successful or jaded--there beats the heart of an inner 13-year-old who still worships the band that made him or her first pick up a musical instrument. On Halloween, it has become a tradition that those musicians get to be their heroes, if only for one night.
Tribute bands that regularly perform the material of famous rock groups are a staple of every music scene, and the Chicago area has had its share of great ones. Among them: In the Flesh? (Pink Floyd), Prezence (Led Zeppelin), and Animation (Rush). Recreating specific, song-for-song performances by the Grateful Dead, Evanston's Dark Star Orchestra regularly sells out shows at mid-sized theaters across the country.
Musical snobs often sneer at these bands--as if anything in rock 'n' roll is ever 100 percent "original"--but even groups that have firmly established themselves playing their own material love to perform covers by bands they admire. Chicago punks Screeching Weasel recorded its own version of the Ramones' first album; Les Claypool's Frogs just released its take on Pink Floyd's "Animals," and jam superstars Phish were famous for covering a different album every Halloween.
We can credit the Double Door with bringing this concept into the clubs. Five years ago, the club's business manager, Lorri Francis, was drinking at the Liar's Club with her pals Scott Lucas of Local H and Wes Kidd of Triple Fast Action. "Wes said, 'You know what would be really cool? If we played as other bands on Halloween!' " Francis recalls. "Of course we were all drunk, so we were like, 'That's a great idea!' But we all talked to each other the following week and thought it was still a really cool idea, so every year since then, we've been doing it."
This musical masquerade is the Double Door's most popular night all year. A year or two back, the concept started spreading to other venues--a fact that Francis sort of resents. But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, an imitation of an imitation must be the biggest compliment by far. This year, four of the area's best clubs are joining in, with shows spread over a week. And the tradition is likely to spread further in the future.
"At the end of the night this year, I'll have bands calling who they want to be next year," Francis says. "If you're going to Schaumburg to see a Led Zeppelin cover band, that's a band that does this for a living and does it all the time. These bands are doing it one night out of the year, and the time and effort and money that they put into looking and sounding like these bands for one night only is just unbelievable."
Nathan Perry of pop-punks the Mil Mulliganos are performing as U2 across the street from the Double Door at the Note. He says that his band has been rehearsing two to four times a week for the last two months in order to perfect the material.
"It all started because we kind of imagined ourselves as U2," Perry says. "I thought [singer] Key [Chung] would do a really good job with the vocals, and I'm a pretty big fan of Edge's guitar playing. I thought it would be cool to play with all that delay.
"The first couple of times we tried it, it was more of a good idea than a practice. But it was a lot of fun, because we'd sit down and listen to the songs and hear different parts that we hadn't heard before. Now, it's really a kick because we've gotten to the point where we can just rip through all the songs that we're doing and they're sounding really good."
As part of their research for "becoming" Genesis, Poi Dog Pondering veterans Dag Juhlin and Eddie Carlson and Aluminum Group keyboardist Liz Conant drove to Mount Prospect to see the Genesis tribute band, Grand Parade. "After the show, Liz accosted the keyboard player and made him show her how to do the cross-hand technique," Juhlin says. "She's really into it; she's even going to wear a rugby shirt like Tony Banks."
But the most ambitious Halloween transformation probably comes courtesy of the arty power-pop band Bucky Dent (augmented by keyboardist Michael Cole of Fly Williams), who are repeating last year's feat of playing Pink Floyd's "The Wall" in its double-album entirety, in costume, while masked roadies construct a wall across the stage.
"It's going to be even better this year," promises drummer Dan Schnarr. "Last year, we skipped a few songs--some of the instrumental passages--and the guys who were building the wall got a little too intoxicated, so it only wound up being about five feet high. This year, we're doing everything, including some songs that were only in the movie."
Does all of this work pay off in the end, with a band like Bucky Dent winning fans that they wouldn't have made otherwise?
"I don't know if they become Bucky Dent fans, but they definitely will come see us, where in the past they might not have," Schnarr says. "We had a lot of people there last year that we'd never met who were really psyched and really into it."
To celebrate its fifth annual Halloween festivities, the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, has added a second night for this year only. On Saturday,
once-a-year reformation and cover some heroes to be named (they insist on keeping the honorees a secret in advance); Marvelkind will play Billy Idol; Woolworthy will be Aerosmith; Premium will be Ratt; Monster Trux is doing Twisted Sister, and Hustler is doing the Stooges. Show time is 8:30; the cover is $10.
On Sunday, the club will host Local H as Tom Petty; the Beer Nuts as the Beastie Boys; the Cells as the Clash; the mighty Box-O-Car as the Pretenders (Skid as Chrissie Hynde? Too cool!); Custom On It as Iron Maiden; Yakuza as Slayer, and Jonny
Polonski as the Pixies. Show time is 8 p.m. and the cover is $10. Call (773) 489-3160.
On Thursday, the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee, will feature the Help as "Melon Collie and the Infinite Baldness"; the Mil Mulliganos as U2; National Drag as the Monkees; Plastics Hi-Fi as Tom Petty; Rock Star Club as Foreigner; Sour Deluxe as Garbage; the Wes Hollywood Show as the Who; Wolcott as Journey, and Uniform as Blur. Doors open at 8 p.m. Call (773) 489-0011.
The Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, is holding its shindig starting at 9 tonight. Bucky Dent will perform "The Wall"; the former Busker Soundcheck with Bruce Lamont will be Led Zeppelin, and Bondo is Alice Cooper. The cover is $7. Call (773) 281-4444.
The only club that is actually holding its party on Halloween proper is Nevin's Live, the fantastic-sounding and ultra-comfortable new room at 1450 Sherman Ave. in Evanston. Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel will be Hall & Oates; Moxy Blue is Led Zeppelin; Mabel Mabel is Prince and the Revolution; Dag Juhlin, Eddie Carlson, Liz Conant, and two of the fellows from Cheer Accident are Genesis, and Brian & Eddie are the Jimi Hendrix Experience with special guest Bob Dylan. Show time is 9 p.m. and the cover is $10. Call (847) 869-0450.
Finally, as a distinct tradition in its own right, the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4536 N. Lincoln, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Band's "Last Waltz" with a tribute concert on the main stage next Friday, Nov. 2, at 9 p.m. Covering all 20 songs that were performed at the original concert is a lineup of local musicians including John Mead, Alton Smith, Peter Strand, Andrew Frost, Elise Brooks, Jim Stacho, and Bill Paige. Admission is free; call (773) 728-6000.