Thursday, June 6, 2024

"You're In A U2 Tribute Band? Bwahhh ha haaa!!"

Not my most elegant title, I'll grant you; yet, these words were actually said to me, evil movie villain laughter included. 

I was sitting at lunch with a teaching colleague, who is a very big U2 fan, and I mentioned to him that I was going to join a U2 Tribute. (I'm a drummer and composer, if you are new here.) He almost snarfed his soda out of his nose. 

In short, he thought the whole idea was rather silly. 

Let me spin you the yarn: A little more than a year ago, my closest friend and fellow musician (who I hadn't played in a band with since the early nineties) asked me to join his new band: Mysterious Ways, which is a U2 tribute. It sounded like a good idea to me. I've always liked U2 (especially their masterpiece, Achtung Baby) and it would be an opportunity to play with him in a band again -- not to mention to do something different.

At that point, I'd never given "tribute" bands any thought, to be honest. I'd been in cover bands to make some extra cheese for years and years, and I'd played sessions with original bands and for commercial spots. 

As I become further involved in the world of the tribute thing, I guess I see my co-worker's point. A friend of mine, who is in the promotion business, said there is a big difference between "tributes" and "impersonators." She advised us not to be "impersonators." There are acts out there who, I think, are convinced the are the bands they pay tribute too. It can lean creepy -- like it is all about them living out their own fantasy; singing into the brush in front of the mirror all over again. 

Well, we're not that way, I can assure you. We don't try to look exactly like U2. Yeah, the guitar player does the Edge hat and the singer does the Bono shades, but that's about it. 

Ironically, we're all Italian-American, not Irish (we jokingly call ourselves "Youze Too") and our singer, Mark, doesn't imitate Bono's mannerisms like some tribute guys try to do. What we do do is absolutely nail the music. Forgive me, but it's true. We're all veteran musicians; we're all road-tested: we deliver a U2 concert at our shows. You get a real U2 live performance at a bargain price. 

I know. U2 is a polarizing band -- and Bono is a polarizing guy -- but it's hard to argue they are not one of the most successful popular bands of all time, even if one is not into them. They still fill stadiums and they are in their fifth decade. But, as a guy who has played in cover bands for four decades, I can tell you it is refreshing to look down at a set list and not dread the next crappy song coming up. Do you know what it feels like to be in the middle of a great song in the second set and look down and see "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" or "Sweet Caroline" staring back at you? Soul-draining, that's what it is. 

On the flipside, it's hard not to look forward to playing "Where the Streets Have No Name" or "Red Hill Mining Town" or "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?" Bono is an exceptional poet ["When I was all messed up/And I had opera in my head/Your love was a lightbulb/Hanging over my bed" -- I mean come on] and the music is one-of a kind, love it or hate it. Not your typical bar jams. 

But here is the best part: You ought to see some of the reactions of the audience. 

In a small venue in Pennsylvania, I saw a woman at a table in the front put both of her hands to her lips in surprise and then jump up into her husband's arms when she heard us start "A Sort of Homecoming." He spun her around and I could see she had tears on her cheeks.  U2 and that song meant something to them. 

At a bigger theater, we were greeting some of the audience after the show, shaking hands, etc., and there were some parents with their kids milling around. One woman asked if she could hug me. As she did, she said, "Thank you so much. We love U2, but we can't afford to see them or bring our son to see them. Thank you for this gift. It was like the real thing. We really want to pass this music along to him."

At another theater show, a kid who was sitting in the front row with her dad and, seemingly, glaring with sinister intent from her darkly-painted eyes came up to me after and asked, in a middle-school monotone: "How long did it take you to be able to play like that?" I answered, "A lifetime. [She wilted a bit.] But it was fun!" She smiled (for the first time that night, I think) and said she loves U2 and she is trying to learn drums but sometimes she gets frustrated. I gave her a pair of sticks and told her I still get frustrated sometimes, and she said, "Thanks," started to walk away, stopped, turned around, and said, "Really, thanks. Maybe I won't quit." Her eyes glittered a bit through thick rims of black eyeliner. 

U2 means something to people and there is something profound in being able to use our years of experience and our talents and all of our energy to bring them live music and, more than that, the live music of their favorite band. 

So, it's not funny, after all. It could be funny if we didn't put the music first and if we pranced around like morons who think they are actually U2, but we do put the music first. And there is nothing silly about playing "Bad" with all we have and making a 55-year-old feel like it's the summer of 1985 again. There is nothing silly about a hard-working mom or dad being able afford to expose their kid to live music and say, "See -- these are the kinds of bands we had when I was your age."

I'm proud of what we do. 

1 comment:

  1. The band is excellent and a ton of fun to go see. My friends and I are big U2 fans and loved it! (DC)