Tributes and Tribulations

Sep 13, 2012 at 5:06 am

Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship

Last week, RFT Music's Jaime Lees wrote an op-ed piece entitled The Problem With An Under Cover Weekend. It pissed some people off, but she had good intentions. Her main thesis seems to be that we should support and celebrate original local music rather than reward bands for doing covers. I find the debate more complicated.

Original music is exciting, in part because it is impractical. The supply of unheard songs will always outweigh the demand. I tend to view music from a standpoint that leans toward the artistic element rather than the entertainment aspect, probably in an 80/20 split. But enforcing my priorities on others would be disrespectful, and I completely relate to the appeal of the cover band. It's the excitement of a live band with the quality control of familiar material.

I cannot write off a well executed cover band. Groups like Dr. Zhivegas are not as much rock bands as they are mobile party facilitators. Conceptually, a cover band is no different than a DJ, except the human element invades the songs themselves rather than just the playlist. If you think of a cover band as pure entertainment, you can see why cover bands almost always make more money than original bands - and why many of the best musicians in town are moonlighting in highly paid cover bands rather than struggling in the trenches.

An Under Cover Weekend doesn't exactly promote cover bands. It deals in tribute bands, the subset of cover bands that recreates a group's entire experience from songs to mannerisms to clothing. When well done, this offers more than an original band or a cover band can; it offers escapism, both to the bands and the audience.