Tribute bands are cool — I swear!

Music columnist Patrick McKenna on why impersonators aren’t (always) horrible

By Patrick McKenna | Feb. 11, 2014

Tags: Concerts Downtown Columbia Music

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I’m just going to come out and say it: I enjoy tribute bands.

There. Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to explain why I have these said feelings for this said form of musical entertainment. You may choose to write me off as an idiot who wastes his money on subpar phonies imitating the beauty of original, amazing bands — or you can read what I have to say.

On both Jan. 29 and 31, I witnessed tribute shows hosted by The Blue Note. Before you jump to conclusions on how my nights went, let me stop your profiling brain and explain some things.

It was not the stereotypical group of fat dudes in tropical party shirts testing its talents by covering the likes of Jimmy Buffett or Oasis. It was not a set of exclusive hits that the drunk-ass douche lord next to you could mumble along to as he spills his Corona on your girlfriend’s purse. It was not, and I REALLY mean this, a host of karaoke-singing, fanatic guys with poor showmanship, who pollute the precious memories of your favorite group.

It was cool.

Jan. 29 held Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime, who brought the beach melodies and hazy, heartfelt ska sound back from the buried sand and into the heart of downtown Columbia. They made for a nearly perfect tribute show (I say nearly only because I admit a tribute show can’t ever be perfect, because, you know, it’s a tribute show) by supplying the reminiscent glory Sublime once offered in the mid ‘90s, while they dominated alternative radio stations and beachside, all-night ragers.

Pat Downes was the star of the show, with a voice sounding nearly identical to the groovy, luscious vocals of the late Bradley Nowell. From the tantalizing sound of “Badfish” to the lively arrangement of the “who doesn’t know every word to this song” jam “Date Rape,” the group took the precious pre-released originals and played them with true heart and soul.

The instrumental jamming between an excellent reggae-fused rhythm section made up of Joel Hanks (bass) and Scott Begin (drums) combined with fantastic songs that practically every attendee gleefully crooned along to made for a tribute job done exactly the way it should be.

On Jan. 31, Evil Empire stormed into The Blue Note with head-banging, hectic funk-metal at full volume.

A Rage Against The Machine tribute band, Evil Empire left me with an EXTREMELY sore neck (let me reiterate: there was a lot of head-banging) as they blew through ferociously played, politically antagonizing anthems that RATM once upon a time made its signature sound.

The band dabbled in early rap-meets-hard and heavy gross rock tracks such as “Bombtrack,” while ending with the furiously fast “Sleep Now in the Fire” to a beaten down (so…much…moshing) yet wildly beaming crowd.

As lead singer Raul Rodriguez put on his best Zack de la Rocha impersonation with every whisper-to-scream, “now you do what they tell you” on “Killing in the Name,” I felt the fury, frustration and amazement I imagine I’d be left with after seeing the real thing.

Here’s the reason I’m so pleased with these performances: they’re recreations of a creation I was never fortunate enough to see live. If either of these extraordinary groups were still together, there would be absolutely nothing stopping me from being front and center. But that’s just it — one of these bands went through a brutal breakup, and the other lost its leader/brother-in-spirit to a heroin overdose.

Both Evil Empire and Badfish reminded me of the fortitude the music that they covered has, and best of all, they gave it to me live with everything they had. That should be enough.

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