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The Decline of Western Civilization Part III: The Tribute Years 

Wednesday, Oct 11 2000
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It all started out as a joke. Not the tribute bands themselves, but my idea to do a story on them. I was on the way with my friend Steve to see Bob Dylan (there is a Dylan tribute, by the way), and mentioned that I was thinking of writing about a Smiths tribute band called Louder Than Bombs. Steve’s friend Marie said, ”That‘s funny, my next-door neighbor, Clint, is the lead singer in that band!“

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Up at Impact House, they call those kinds of coincidences ”God shots.“ So I roped Steve into taking me to see (and hear) Louder Than Bombs at an awful little joint called the Joint. Clint is an actor and worked with Brad Pitt on the upcoming film The Mexican. Marie said that Clint said that Brad said he’d be at this show. And of course he wasn‘t. But lots of Clint’s other friends were, and by the end of the brief set, the tiny place was packed.

The performance wasn‘t half bad (not to be confused with half good). I was disappointed they hadn’t played ”How Soon Is Now,“ but Clint did eyeball me and warble menacingly in a Morrissey accent, ”Sweetness, I was only joking when I saidBy rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed“ during ”Big Mouth Strikes Again.“

I left feeling maybe definitely there was a story here, a hunch confirmed the next morning when I couldn‘t stop singing in my own proxy of Mazza’s nasal fake-o profundo, ”There‘s more to life than books, you knowBut not much more.“

*

In order to fit Louder Than Bombs into the Big Picture, however, I felt compelled to go see a few of the major tribute bands in the area. Steve had seen enough, but another friend, John, wanted to check out the scene, and he was perfect for the job, because he’s as big a snob as I am and our tastes are completely opposite: He spent his high school years shooting dope and playing punk rock; I spent mine smoking dope and listening to Pink Floyd.

Speak of the devil, the first band we saw was Which One‘s Pink?, the (post-Syd) Floyd droids, who were part of a triple tribute bill at Scruffy O’Shea‘s, the Marina del Rey venue specializing in this sort of thing. I was antsy about going, because in 1980 I’d actually seen Pink Floyd perform The Wall at the Sports Arena, so the prospect of standing through the set of some tribute band fronted by a young, watered-down Roger Waters manque who was probably still wearing short pants in 1980 was a bummer. Whereas John and his friend Chip could laugh at the whole thing -- in particular an aged, fangless beach hippie in the crowd they affectionately dubbed ”Tooth Boy,“ who spent the next hour or so acting out every lyric and playing every air instrument -- there was no one (e.g., hip, humbled prog-rockers in the audience) and no thing (e.g., hip, humorous prog-rockers onstage) for me to laugh with.

Indeed, when the elderly keyboardist asked if anybody‘d seen the recent Roger Waters concerts, most of the audience hurrahed. And I thought, What the hey? Why are they here at Which One’s Pink? if they just went to Roger Waters? As someone who prides himself on being a thinking man‘s Floyd fan, having long defended them against jaded hipster naysayers, here I was flabbergasted by the group’s own faded square yeasayers. Didn‘t these poor devils notice, upon leaving Scruffy O’Shea‘s, that at the door was a stack of cards imprinted with the halfhearted plea ”Original Bands Wanted“?

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Nevertheless, I kept seeing tribute bands and experienced a representative cross section of the top copycats in town, namely: Sticky Fingers (a tribute to the Stones), Led Zepagain (a tribute to you should know who), Space Oddity (starring David Brighton as David Bowie) and the Atomic Punks (named for a song from the debut Van Halen LP). Herewith my first (and hopefully last) impressions . . .

STICKY FINGERS Pluses: Drummer hesitates over high-hat like Charlie, bassist holds bass upright like Bill, guitarist crouches like Keef. Minuses: Lead guitarist big-deals it unlike Mick Taylor, singer ”Dick Swagger“ wears white Capezios with knickers too much like Mick Jagger circa 1981.

LED ZEPAGAIN Pluses: Drummer solos barehanded during ”Moby Dick,“ guitarist employs theramin during ”Whole Lotta Love.“ Minuses: Belly dancer (emphasis on belly) shimmies during ”Kashmir,“ bassist wears white pleather loafers a la Chevy Chase in Vacation.

SPACE ODDITY Pluses: Brighton often changes costume (from Ziggy to Thin White Duke to yellow Serious Moonlight Tour suit), Mick Ronsonesque guitarist used to be in Jellyfish. Minuses: keyboard presets, BrightonBowie walking down Sunset after show, still in yellow suit.

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