Being all sly about it. There is probably a tribute band for every major American or European rock band you can think of and most of them have names that unmistakably link them to the band they idolize and emulate. Zeppelin tributes have names like Led Zepagain, Physical Graffiti, Whole Lotta Zep and Beatles emulators go by monikers like the Backbeats and Hello Goodbye. There's a Portland band called Appetite for Deception - and yes, they play the music and wear the leather of Guns N' Roses.
On Sunday, Joey Porter brings his nine-piece Sly and the Family Stone tribute to the Les Schwab Amphitheater for the Summer Sundays kickoff, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss the tribute band phenomena.
Some, and possibly most, tribute bands are the result of an excessively enthusiastic love of a particular band gone overboard. When I was 13 years old, I found myself having unintentionally become the guitarist of a Nirvana tribute band. The intention was never to become a tribute of any kind, but we played Nirvana songs exclusively while wearing our Nirvana T-shirts and listening to Nirvana on cassette tapes during breaks in our rehearsals. We wore our guitars right around crotch level, just like Kurt Cobain and Krist Noveselic, and donned thermal undershirts while trying to let our hair grow long. I grew out of that Nirvana phase, but I can see how some might stick with it, taking the delusion to the next level by making a career of not being a rock star, but pretending to be a rock star.
I once saw an Elvis impersonator waiting to board a plane at Chicago O'Hare and while he wasn't in full costume, you could tell by his haircut that he was an Elvis impersonator. Actually, it was impossible to think of him as anything but a man who in a sense is Elvis, or at least a representation what Elvis should look like. No one could possibly just think of him as Jim (no idea if that was his real name), that guy who does a great Elvis impression. He is certainly referred to as Jim the Elvis Impersonator. Even if he were a television repairman, he would be thought of as Jim the Elvis Impersonator who installed my new flat screen.
I often wonder what the life of a dedicated member of a tribute band is like offstage. Does he go home, pull off his wig and sequined cape, sit down in his recliner, pour himself a drink and for half an hour come to terms once again that he's not, in fact, Neil Diamond and that he needs to iron his Best Buy polo shirt before his morning shift?
I do realize, however, that there's a need for tribute bands, I can understand that much. We can't go see Zeppelin or the Beatles or Guns N' Roses, so we do the next thing. We see bands that kind of sound like Zeppelin, sort of look like the Beatles, and remind us of Guns N' Roses.
Joey Porter, the former Portlander who played in a number of funk, jazz, and hip-hop acts before moving on to play keys in Boulder's instrumental jazz/funk band, the Motet, has assembled yet another tribute band. Previously, he's brought together a roster of musical wizards to play the tunes of Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder, but this June he's reuniting that crew to take on the music of Sly and the Family Stone.
Porter unabashedly admits that his lineup of all-star Northwest musicians is a Sly tribute, but is quick to squash any notions that the band has any of the common tribute band delusions.
"There's a lot of tribute bands out there, and a lot of them are Las Vegas-ey - wearing wigs and all that. We're just musicians that like to play this band's music," Porter says.
Porter is completely aware of the Tribute Band Dilemma: it's cool to play the music of a great like Sly, but it's not quite so cool to attempt to act or dress like a mega rock star. There's no danger of Porter's crew going this route - they only have one rehearsal scheduled before their tour, and I'd imagine they'd spend that time nailing down the complicated arrangements of Sly and the Family Stone rather than sewing together some custom-made costumes.
I ask Porter the question I've always wanted to ask someone in a tribute band: How would it feel to have the act you're paying tribute to attend your show?
"You know, I've thought about that before. I might actually be a little bit nervous," Porter says of a hypothetical scenario in which Sly Stone showed up at the Les Schwab Amphitheatre. We then spend the next five minutes discussing the downright nutty behavior embodied by the recently reemerged Sly and agree that it's a good thing that singer Paul Creighton (of Intervision fame) doesn't take his role literally.
"But hey," Porter says in closing, "It's not likely I'm putting on an afro wig or anything."
Dance to the Music - A Tribute to Sly and the Family Stone
1pm gates, 2:30pm show, Sunday, June 8. Les Schwab Amphitheater. 344 Shevlin Hixon Dr. Free.