Dirty Deeds

AC/DC tribute band TNT squeezes extra mileage out of the highway to hell

With no verbal bantering to the audience allowed, Cartagine relies on old-fashioned methods of winning friends like duckwalking and facial expressions.

"If someone's not into it, I smile and try to bring them in," he says. "Or I'll jump off the stage. If I'm still not getting through, that's when I start taking off my clothes. Make sure they're involved. I've never seen a musician with his arm folded that doesn't go ooh and aah by the end of the show."

"Tribute bands get a bad rap, almost like used cars," injects Lamia. "The reason is a lot of the bands just get up and play and don't get into character. With the exception of one guy getting into character and the rest of the guys just standing there. I think if you're gonna do this thing, you should do it all the way so you get the respect. We get two different kinds of respect. One is, 'You guys are unbelievable. I feel like I just saw AC/DC,' and the other is somebody saying, 'Stop trying to be somebody you're not.' And I take that as a compliment because we made a big enough impact on that guy or woman for them to say you're going too far. If we just sucked, they could just walk out the door, but if they've got to come to my face, I've damaged their temple of worship."

TNT: Not the real thing, but an amazing facsimile of AC/DC.
Todd H. Lillard
TNT: Not the real thing, but an amazing facsimile of AC/DC.

"Stop trying to be someone you're not" is the major gripe of the infrequent anti-TNT e-mail the band receives. "We keep all our derogatory e-mail," Lamia says. "That's what AC/DC would do. Some people don't quite understand what tribute bands are."

What's rubbing some people the wrong way? The fact that TNT's CD single of "On the Borderline" is being racked with the real AC/DC CDs in Tower Records, Wherehouse and Zia? Well, various-artist tribute CDs get the same royal treatment and they sound nothing like the band they're supposed to honor. Since TNT is hardly making any money on it and is actually paying AC/DC royalties, that's still paying homage.

But what will the reaction be if the band goes forth with a plan of doing an album with four more unreleased-in-the-U.S. AC/DC cuts and some originals done in the style of AC/DC? Or that a director wants to make a documentary on rock stars that expired before their prime and has asked them to write an original tune that sounds like Bon Scott-era AC/DC? Is this some guy that wants to circumvent paying a higher royalty rate to the real band? Are any of these bandied-about ideas pushing a TNT agenda instead of paying straight homage?

Lamia brings up an even tougher question: "How do you play your own original material and dress like AC/DC? Either you do it with the stuff or without it. I say, you do it with the costumes. It's like KISS; it was always better with the costumes. It's a tough decision to make. We're just letting this thing take its own course and go in whatever direction it wants to go and not do it if it feels cheesy. We've been asked to appear on tribute-band compilations and refused every time because it didn't feel right. Everything we're gonna do is low-risk because we've all got families; we can't be screwing around.

"We do two to four shows a month. We try to make sure every month we're breaking ground in a new market. What I did was took AC/DC's old tour roster and said, 'They didn't go here, they didn't go here, they didn't go here and they didn't go here. Let's call these places.' San Antonio. Salt Lake. Boise. El Paso. Albuquerque. Tribute bands seem to do well outside the main cities."

Recently, the band incited a near riot worthy of the real deal when fans knocked over the barricades to get to the stage three times. The AC/DC-starved locale? Tucson, Arizona, where TNT played with Atomic Punks in a Monsters of Tribute Band Rock show at Kennedy Park, sponsored by KLPX. Another similar show is being planned closer to home at Cliff Castle Casino, possibly next month. Aping AC/DC will take TNT to Puerto Rico for five days and the Virgin Islands, places AC/DC never played.

Next summer: Japan, which will not be on AC/DC's itinerary anytime soon. Angus is 45. Phil Rudd is 46. Cliff Williams is 54 and Brian Johnson has rejoined his pre-AC/DC band Geordie -- who knows how long his larynx can stand the punishment of singing "What Do You Do for Money Honey" night after night?

Although AC/DC won't be able to retire on the royalties TNT will pay them, they certainly don't need the money. But it must be comforting to know that someone is spreading the word about AC/DC in uncharted territories while they needn't lift a finger. When Brian Johnson quipped, "There are some singers in these tribute bands so good I wanna kill them," Donnie Malone had to be at the top of his hit list.

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