Tribute bands are like high-tech silicone sex dolls — it looks like the real thing, feels like it, hopefully even sounds like it. But who's kidding who? That ain't Gwen Stefani.
Still, it's fun to pretend sometimes, no? Take Badfish, a collection of former University of Rhode Island computer science nerds who tour the country paying musical tribute to ska-punk legends Sublime. One can see the appeal. When Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell fatally overdosed on heroin at age 28, the platinum-selling, self-titled album that would launch the band to national stardom was still two months from stores. Most of their present-day fans never got to see them perform.
Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime is scheduled to perform on Thursday, February 4, at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
Clearly, some of these musical facsimiles are more "essential" than others. So here's a list of rock's 10 greatest tribute bands, bless their silicon souls.
10. No Way Sis (Oasis): Declared "the second-best band in the world" by a characteristically modest Noel Gallagher, these Glasgow-based Oasis impersonators remain the only tribute band to score their own mainstream hit single — a cover of The New Seekers' "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," which made the Top 20 in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, people stopped giving a shit about Oasis in the late '90s, and No Way Sis wisely disbanded.
9. The Smiths Indeed (The Smiths): With each passing year, it appears less and less likely that rock's crown prince of poignant mopery, Morrissey, will ever reunite with his former mates. Quoth Morrissey: "I'd rather dine on my own testicles." Ouch! A U.S. tour by this Liverpudlian foursome — generally regarded as the best faux Smiths in the business — seems imminent.
8. Furthur (The Grateful Dead): This one's a no-brainer, since the tribute band includes two members (Bob Weir and Phil Lesh) of the original Dead. And if guitarist John Kadlecik doesn't quite "do it" for you as Jerry Garcia, well, a little psilocybin will take care of that.
7. Beatlejuice (The Beatles): Brad Delp, the former singer of Boston, became arguably the biggest rock star ever to play in a tribute band when he formed this faux Fab Four in 1994. Delp passed away in 2007, but the band still performs, mostly on the East Coast.
6. Zappa Plays Zappa (Frank Zappa): Formed 13 years after the avant-garde musician succumbed to prostate cancer, the group is fronted by Frank's son, Dweezil. Earned rare tribute-band distinction by winning a 2009 Grammy for best rock instrumental performance.
5. The Iron Maidens (Iron Maiden): Formed in 2001, the Los Angeles fivesome is billed as "the world's only female tribute to Iron Maiden." And, yes, they're pretty hot. Currently touring Japan, naturally.
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4. Dread Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin): "Critical acclaim" and "tribute band" are almost always mutually exclusive terms, but these still-performing goofballs — famous for performing reggae versions of Zeppelin tunes — got signed to a mid-major label (I.R.S.) and once opened for INXS.
3. One Night of Queen (Queen): Freddie Mercury impersonator Gary Mullen has it down: the voice, the shirtless stage antics, even the mustache. No less an authority than Queen guitarist Brian May calls Mullen's mock-Mercury "remarkable." The band kicks off a four-month North American tour in February.
2. Purple Reign (Prince): Led by eerily magnetic Prince impersonator Jason Tenner, this Las Vegas-based tribute act broke through the glass ceiling when it appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2008. Recently played three sold-out shows in the Valley.
1. Bjorn Again (ABBA): Along with Elvis and The Beatles, ABBA is part of the tribute-band holy troika, and nobody has mastered the swingin' Swedes quite like these Australian superstar satirists. The show is so popular, there are now up to five Bjorn Agains performing at any given time around the world.