Cover Band or “Old Favorite”? Does it matter?

5 Sep

In keeping with our favorite summer activity, live music, Thursday evening we went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at Ravinia.  Ravinia, for those that don’t live in Chicago, is a wonderful outdoor concert venue with a Pavilion offering reserved seating to about 3000 people in the Pavilion (for a higher ticket price of course) and an additional 12,000 or so folks spread out on “the lawn” which is a beautiful wooded park – with speakers spread throughout.

We had lawn seats for Lynyrd Skynyrd – we were directly off the Pavilion so the sound we were hearing was straight off the stage sound system versus the lawn sound.  But sitting in the lawn, I could have been listening to a very good cover band versus the original – which of course got me to thinking:  All the touring bands under the names of the old faves are often just that – cover bands.  Which of course gets the next thought – “does that matter”?

Lynryd Skynyrd is probably less of a cover band than most these days – it stars four original players including Gary Rossington and Johnnie Van Zant.  We all know this band’s story – back in the late 70s, there was a tragic plane crash that killed three of the band’s original members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant – who really was the star and “sound” of the band.

We’ve seen lots of other “old fave/back in the day” touring acts in the last 8 years since this phenomena took hold including:

– Foreigner – one original member left:  Mick Jones:  That said, Foreigner is probably the best sounding of them all – and Mick Jones, while looking like father time himself, still riffs like a 30-year old and the band’s sound is stunning.

– Styx:  Two original members, Tommy Shaw and James Young, joined on stage by Chuck Panozzo on bass for a few numbers.  Tommy and James were the rockers of Styx, while Dennis DeYoung wanted to take the band into operatic “prog rock” back in the early 80s, which broke up the band.  These guys are the heart and soul of the Styx that I loved and the songs they play are primarily from Tommy Shaw and JY’s catalog, versus DDY songs.

– Boston: Only original member is Tom Scholz.  Still scorching.

– REO Speedwagon – two original members, Kevin Cronin, and the bass player (can’t remember his name).

– Kansas  – two original members

– Journey – two original members and a vocalist that was auditioned via You Tube and he is a Filipino guy who was a Steve Perry impressionist doing Karaoke until the band recruited him to be the Steve Perry impressionist doing live band Karaoke in front of a big live audience.  I haven’t heard them but I hear they are great.

And more …

And that’s the first tier.  These folks are still playing bigger venues, commanding decent ticket prices, and it still feels like a real rock show.  The second tier is where the cover band thing really starts kicking in.  Generally these acts are playing places like community festivals (Foghat played Buffalo Grove Days a few years ago and the year after was Starship – the smoking ruins of the old Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship, etc.).   Most of these bands feature just one original member and it is usually only someone that was sort of part of the band’s soul.  Foghat’s original member was the bass player.  Starship’s was vocalist Mickey Thomas, who was the band’s front man in the 80s, but without the incredible vocals of Grace Slick, that band was pointless.

Of late, we’ve seen many good  cover acts as well – tribute bands to the Beatles including Chicago-based and nationally-touring American English, tribute bands to Pink Floyd, Journey, Foriegner, Kiss, etc. etc.  And all are great – and it is great fun to hear the music of your youth performed live.

Which of course brings me around to the point – are these cover bands or are they originals?  And, does it matter? Certainly, in the case of bands like Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc., you can make the point that they are current versions of the originals.   All businesses and let’s face it, rock bands ARE businesses, change out personnel, so it goes in music.  Foreigner, with Mick Jones at the helm, and considering he wrote most of their catalog, isn’t a cover band so much as a better version of the original.  While I’m no expert in contract law and intellectual property, clearly all these bands have a member who still owns rights to the band name and the music catalog and so they go.

On the subject of “does it matter”?  Well, depends on your perspective.  If you’re a music purist, I suppose it does.  But, if you’re like me, a music lover and a nostalgic soul, instead these bands are a walk through our youth.  And a damn enjoyable walk it is.

And while those first huge, loud chords of “Feels Like the First Time” by Foreigner slam through you, or you’re fist pumping your way through “Blue Collar Man” or “Fooling Yourself” with Tommy Shaw of Styx, savoring the incredible guitar solos of Boston, or yelling “Free Bird” with thousands of Lynyrd Skynyrd fans like I did Thursday night – you’re simply transported back to an earlier time.  And that’s all good.

Go see live music and support these touring 60 year olds.  Re-live your youth.  It’s good for the soul.

As you were,

Stew

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One Response to “Cover Band or “Old Favorite”? Does it matter?”

  1. carpetbagger September 8, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    I remember running around Ravinia as a boy when I was with the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus. Each summer, we would appear with the Chicago Symphony and Chorus to do something. Mahler, Berlioz, Bach… something. We’d rehearse in the afternoon and then run around the park until they opened the gates. I just remember that it took for freakin’ ever to get up there and back from the Western Burbs.

    Really mad I didn’t see Paul McCartney when he opened our new arena here in Pittsburgh. He sang for three hours with no opening act. Didn’t even drink water. I heard it was amazing. I’m going to have to get myself to a venue, soon.

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