Monday, January 18, 2010

But Not Quite

Pink Floyd--"Money" (mp3)
Shawn Colvin--"New Thing Now" (mp3)

"But it was only fantasy
The wall was too high, as you can see"

--Pink Floyd, "Hey You"

There's something in this post about art, the connection between the artist and art, the question of whether or not the art can be separated from the artist. I'm not smart enough to figure it all out.

But I do know this: I went to see the first cover band concert of my life this weekend. I saw The Machine, a veteran Pink Floyd cover band who decided over 20 years ago that the crux of their career would be to play Pink Floyd songs exclusively. Having never seen a cover band before and, because of the nature of this one, having long stretches of music during which to ponder ideas which seemed deeper while drinking beer, I became fascinated by the concept of the cover band, and, in particular, this one.

Here are the constraints they face. First, they've got to play what we want to hear; otherwise, why in the world would we pay good money to see them? I wanted to hear a bunch of stuff from Animals (I got "Dogs"), "Wish You Were Here," maybe even "One Of These Days." Other than that, I didn't really care. Of course, I got "Wish You Were Here." I figured beyond that they would work through the basic hits (No, they did not play "Money") and keep the show going. That pretty much happened.

The second restriction is that, musically, they have to be Pink Floyd. That seems obvious, but think about it for a minute. My focus is always on the guitarist, and this guy was totally on. He could play David Gilmour's parts note for note.

Gilmour is a guitar god not because he is flashy, but because he plays melodic parts that complement and extend songs as well as anyone in rock. This guy would have to do the same. And not just hitting the notes. He had to be able to play those beautiful solos with the same kind of passion. He was.

But therein lies the problem: he cannot deviate even one note from what Gilmour played on the records. If he does, we will look at each other and shake our heads and say, 'That's not what it sounded like.'

The third, I guess, is that they've got to look kind of like Pink Floyd, or at least representative rockers from the time period. Which period, you ask? Good question. The lead guitarist looked like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Trey Anastasio; the drummer had a poodle-ish, permed haircut that would not have been out of place in Loverboy. Perhaps, though, nobody really remembers or cares what Pink Floyd looked like.

That being said, the show rocked purty good. The power of the coda in "Dogs." The audience participation of "Another Brick In The Wall, Part II." And the show closer, "Have A Cigar," was transcendent, probably a peppier rocker than any way Pink Floyd ever played it and the better for it.

But there was an interesting twist as well. The band, perhaps over time, has morphed itself into not just coverers of Floyd, but aficionados as well. They felt the need not only to feed the audience the hits they wanted, but also to display their ability to recreate some of the more obscure parts of the Floyd catalog. So they played "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn," which they announced, and several longer, trippy, less accessible number which I didn't recognize.

I don't think you can have it both ways, cover bands of the world. Either you travel the country making a decent living giving fans of a band they can't see the songs they want to hear or you establish yourself as a band who probably plays their own stuff, but extends their cred by adding lesser-known songs by a well-known band to your set. In the case of The Machine, yes, I enjoyed the show, but there were far too many great Floyd songs they could have played instead of some of the meandering ones.

When you're standing at a cover band show, you do ask yourself, at varying points during the show, what you're doing there. And you come up with varying answers. At one point, I said to to the person next to me, "They sound more like Pink Floyd the more beer I drink!" There was something to that. Then there was Ramsey, who was with us, who was there because he "loves Pink Floyd." He was living off of the next best thing. And that's a bittersweet feeling. After all, during one of the long, droning, synthesizer explorations, the guy next to me leaned over and shouted in my ear, "They don't need to be playing this. I mean, if it was Pink Floyd, they could play whatever they wanted to, but since it isn't, they need to play stuff we want to hear."

That's what I ultimately realized, too. I thought I was going to see something close to Pink Floyd, but I was really going just to hear the songs. I didn't care about the look of the band or the lasers or anything else but the music. It wasn't about the artists; it was only about the art, the reproduction of the masters.


troutking said...

I pondered this question, too, at the beginning. Then I had two Jager shots. Then I stopped thinking about it. Now I don't remember the show much at all. So I don't get to have any pudding.

Billy said...

Apropos of me, my last encounter with a cover band was in Atlanta. My wife and I stayed there pre-third child to get away from it all for a night, and we strolled around a mall before going to P.F. Chang's (before one showed up in 'Nooga).

Amidst this Disneyworld-esque mallscape, where some of the walkways were outdoors and some were indoors, I heard Journey's "Open Arms," a song that immediately makes me think of big-boobed animated women from Heavy Metal, and I grabbed J's hand, and we hastily located them.

It took me four songs before I realized that it wasn't actually Journey. I just assumed that Steve Perry & Co. had grown so pathetic as to play malls. Like Tiffany. But apparently it was a group called Frontiers. We watched the rest of their concert and found it highly entertaining.

But then, it was free, and it was completely unexpected. And those two details -- not to mention the immeasurable Journey v. Floyd debate -- alter the value and significance of your art and artist completely.

troutking said...

Saw Frontiers at Rhythm and Brews a couple years ago. Except that I don't really like journey, they were not bad at all. Til the beer-bellied Steve Perry imitator decided to rip open his shirt. Unnecessary. But don't take my word for it. They are playing R and B again sometime this spring. No doubt the Wolf will be there.

Anonymous said...

If I could paint on canvases like that, I'd become an artist.

jed said...

Bob, it has always struck me that David Gilmour and Neil Young are very similar in their styles. Maybe not in what you hear but their ability to play exactly the right note at exactly the right time. that's much more satisfying to me than shredding. i enjoyed your post.