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Confessions of a Tribute Band Hater

Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona around or shortly after the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.

Thus far in this Heritage Hump series, I have refrained from writing about tribute bands and any band that I have ever been a plectrum-carrying member of. Well, avert your gaze lest you wish to learn about my involvement in several anti-tribute tribute bands, that is, tribute bands more interested in having a good time than being terribly accurate in dress or manner.

First, there was Bluebird, the drunken Wings tribute band that featured members of Less Pain Forever, Trunk Federation, and former New Times music editor Gilbert Garcia. Everyone in that band was either Paul or Linda because who cares about anybody else in Wings, anyway? And we spared the audience none of the wussiest material — "Uncle Albert," "Let 'Em In," "My Love," and that disco mash-up of of "Row Row Row Your Boat" and the Von Trapp Family, "Silly Love Songs." Like I told the fellas before our penultimate gig, "Put your genitals in a drawer, you won't be needing them for the rest of the night."

That jollity lasted about two shows, and then someone had the bright idea of forming a Queen tribute band called Dragon Attack that never performed the Queen song of the same name no matter how often people yelled it out. Just imagine going to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band called Kashmir and every time someone yelled out the namesake song you'd answer with "Yes, we ARE Kashmir" and always left them hanging.

Like Bluebird, Dragon Attack also featured Gil Garcia and Chris Kennedy, plus Chris Doyle of Sunorus and Tres Ikner of Dutch Holly. Dragon Attack was a lot of work. We never realized how ridiculously difficult songs you've heard a million times can be to learn, made even worse by my decision to emulate Freddie Mercury by securing a set of Austin Powers buck teeth to my own set of molars using Poli-Grip. That is they key to accurately emulating the Merc's unique vocal style. Didn't you ever wonder why he's constantly licking his choppers? It's because no moisture can get past that cattle catcher he has blocking his gullet. It gets as dry as a cave back there.

That went on for about four shows. Then one day in 2003, somebody phoned me and asked if I knew of a Beatles tribute band and told me how much he was willing to pay for them. It was more than Lorne Michaels was willing to pay to reunite the real Beatles on SNL. I hung up the phone, called Pat Singleton and Nick Pasco of Sugar High and Chris Doyle. And M.B.E. (Mutant Beatles Experiment) was born.

I'm never quite sure what the club owner who secured our services thought of the fact that we wore antennae on our heads and threatened the audience members who asked what happened to the club's regularly scheduled karaoke night with intergalactic bodily harm. Our stint lasted only three weeks before the club owner or relative of the club owner was removed from his post and we were stuck with a repertoire of 87 songs, all early pre-mustache Beatle songs. So instead of going after lucrative casino gigs, we'd show up at Jugheads or a home for mentally challeneged people and play "Please Please Me" like we had a gun to our backs.

You have to hate Beatles tribute bands as much as I do to really appreciate M.B.E. Most of the ones I see perform the early Beatles songs are way too polite. You get the feeling they're giving the early catalog the short shrift because they can't wait to sing "Let It Be" or "Hey Jude." We never, ever wanted to play that stuff. And we never put on fake Liverpudlian accents, for we were pretending to be Space Invaders rather than British ones. This usually meant excessive use of a fog machine to simulate noxious nerve gasses similar to those used by the real Beatles in 1962-66 that made teens the world over swoon and faint. And answering to the names Victar, Niktar, Phantar, and Kronus.

In creating the kind of Beatles tribute band we all wanted to see, the idea was to play songs harder, louder and faster than any Beatles tribute bands we'd ever seen before, as if we were trying to emulate what the Beatles sounded like jacked up on speed in Germany.

Being a tribute band is a no-win situation, in that the best you can hope for is that people say you sound just like the record and the worst is people keep coming up to you asking you to play "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" which, as any rock historian will tell you, is not a Beatles song. It's all the nah nah nah nahs at the end that get the Gen Zeds all confused.

Generally with tribute bands, your revenue stream known as the merch booth is always suspect — I mean what are you going to do, sell used copies of Beatles' '65? M.B.E. (which sometimes billed itself as Marciopa Beat Expo) did put out an EP of original songs for that reason. Examining its contents now, "Lie About the World," our Heritage Hump song of the week, was the most Beatleish.

We'd sneak it into the set every so often and no one batted an eye. See what happens when you take music education out of schools?

The Mutants on Ice EP proved prophetic since we put M.B.E. on ice shortly afterwards. Says Pat Singleton, a.k.a. Phantar, "It seemed like the right thing to do, since we'd been doing this side project way longer than the Beatles were together as a working band. We needed a break that didn't involve Japanese avant-garde artists and Scotland. But someone hired us to play their wedding next month, so I guess we're doing it again for the same reason we got together in the first place."

Because of an undying love for the Beatles?

"Because someone is paying us," he grins. "So we will be screaming 'Money (That's What I Want)' very loudly."
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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic