Classic rock is starting to act a lot like classical music. And in truth, that’s not a bad thing. In rock’s heyday—starting in the ’60s, anchored in the ’70s and tapering off in the ’80s and ’90s—you had guys (mostly) in their 30s packing stadiums and arenas full of kids in their teens and 20s.
The music was fresh, raw and loud; not to mention affordable. Back then, my fifth row ticket to see Aerosmith cost less than the T-shirt, and a summer day spent getting drunk, stoned and sunburned on the infield at Royals Stadium jammin’ out to Kansas, Steve Miller Band, Eddie Money and Van Halen cost about $20.
Today, if such mega bands can work the arthritis out of their fingers, scrape the nicotine off their vocal chords and get a day pass from rehab, don’t even think about paying less than $100 for a ticket.
So it’s not surprising that cover bands are doing some decent business filling smaller venues at $15 a head. Those comprised of quality musicians sporting top shelf visuals and who sing like pros command higher dollar for a reason. But they’re the ones who, when you close your eyes and just listen, are virtually indiscernible from the real deal. The real value is with the faux metal bands. Perennial favorites in Boulder are the rockin’ hotties Hell’s Belles out of Washington state. You gotta love a woman in dreadlocks, bra and kilt layin’ down blistering AC/DC licks on her Les Paul for another babe screeching out the Bon Scott/Brian Johnson vocals. The dollar per megawatt of energy ratio makes it one of the best shows around.
Another all-woman cover band with serious chops that hails from NYC (a place that weeds out most entertainment garbage) is Lez Zeppelin. My persistent partner in musical decadence, Jon, said they were supposed to be good, but as is usually the case, we were skeptical. We walked into the Fox in Boulder for the beginning of “Rock n Roll” and once we picked our jaws up off the floor, you couldn’t get the smile off our faces.
More recently, a pair of metal legends, Van Halen cover band Romeo Delight opened for Guns n’ Roses cover band Appetite for Destruction at the Bluebird. Romeo Delight has the licks down, but Eddie’s virtuosity was notably absent. Appetite for Destruction, on the other hand, opted for the Guns n’ Roses look circa 1982 and acquitted themselves admirably.
Curiously, I spoke to at least 30 different people at that show and not one person had ever seen either Van Halen or Guns n’ Roses live. This odd fact seems to beg the question: To what does the audience compare these performances? The same is true when you go to see the New York Philharmonic play Beethoven.
And that’s when it struck me. There is a time in the fast-approaching future when the classics of rock and roll will only be performed by cover bands. I mean, it’s almost a cruel joke to see fat, out-of-shape rockers going through the motions to do a show that their kids are almost too old for. The second farewell tour of KISS comes to mind. I never laughed so hard as when I watched Gene Simmons try and connect more than three high-kicks together while clad in a cutout spandex outfit that looked like something he bought from Wal-Mart.
No. The energy, artistry and collective experience of a classic rock show is not something to be left to the original band members. Not when they’re banking their earnings for the grandkids and doing shots of Metamucil back stage before the show.
The classics are best interpreted by the fresh, strong youngsters with pipes that can muscle through “Back in Black” without cracking and stamina that can thrash a drum kit to hell without missing a beat. That way, the hazy memories of those classic shows, and the stoned youngsters that performed them, can remain intact.