The Great Rock & Roll Swindle: 8 Touring Bands With Barely Recognizable Lineups

Also known at this point as "Angus Young and a bunch of other dudes"
Also known at this point as "Angus Young and a bunch of other dudes"
Photo by Timothy Norris

[Update: Since this article was first published, The Sonics have canceled their tour without longtime vocalist/keyboardist Gerry Roslie. We also received a message from the band correcting and clarifying some details about their most recent lineup and tour cancellation, which you can read more about below.]

Greed and rock & roll never mix well. And when they do, it seems it’s only lawyers — and usually the bass player or keyboardist — who come out on top.

Here is a look at several of the most shameless, money-grubbing participants in that ghastly, fraudulent racket known as the oldies/classic-rock circuit. They’re coming to stink up your corner of the rock & roll jungle soon, so take care before you lay down any cash to see a show by these charlatans, none of whom feature the band members most fans are hoping to see.

8. Bow Wow Wow 
Annabella Lwin, the lissome, exotic wild child who created an international sensation fronting Malcolm McLaren's early-’80s post-punk thrill tribe Bow Wow Wow, was one of that era’s most recognizable and appealing rockers. While Adam Ant couldn’t help but look like a jerk in his pirate gear, Annabella pulled it off with good cheer, an irresistible attitude and her singular, silver-toned vocal style.

But when Bow Wow Wow announces a show these days, Lwin won’t be there. She was unceremoniously dumped from the band in 2013. But bassist Leigh Gorman just won’t give it up, hiring singer Chloe Demetria as his Annabella surrogate. Demetria, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a dual major in vocal performance and composition, has been accompanying Gorman in suckering drunks on the ’80s nostalgia circuit. 

7. Thee Midniters
One of the finest groups to emerge from East L.A.’s fabled, vibrant mid-’60s soul-rock explosion, Thee Midniters were capable of both intoxicatingly emotional balladry and wild, frantic, garage-rock ravers. Their charismatic, drastically talented singer Little Willie G has a set of pipes that, to this day, reach such intergalactic altitudes of expressive power that he can break your heart and bring you to your knees, then catapult you into an exultant wild blues yonder with consummate ease.

While Willie does occasionally rejoin the group on select, prestige dates, his bandmates have chosen to squander their magnificent legacy by running the band’s name into the ground over the last decade with a ceaseless tide of tepid, oldies-centric bookings all featuring the irreplaceable Willie G’s replacement, Greg Esparza, on the mic. It’s always a "buyer beware" situation whenever you see they are playing a show, and it’s a damn shame, because on a good night with Willie G, Thee Midniters are one of the greatest acts in rock & roll history.

6. Dead Kennedys
The current, very active Dead Kennedys' lineup — fronted not by founding vocalist Jello Biafra but instead by singer Skip Greer (Lightouts, The Wynona Ryders) — is the rotten fruit of Biafra’s infamous multiple court losses and subsequent $200,000 payout to the bandmates he defrauded. Punk rock’s single nastiest financial saga began when an employee at Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label noticed past-due royalties of $76,000 that should have gone to guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and drummer D.H. Peligro. Confronted, Biafra admitted there may have been a bookkeeping error and offered to cough up the back pay, but also suggested it might be nice if his bandmates would concurrently forfeit all interest in the band's entire recorded catalog. War broke out, and the musicians were victorious, winning not only a large settlement but rights to the Dead Kennedys catalog and name.

5. Flipper
When San Francisco noise wranglers Flipper erupted in 1979, no one was prepared for their destroy-all-comers brand of torturous, distorted droning. They called it “pet rock” and quickly became the band everyone loved to hate. Often performing to a nonstop hail of empty beer cans, their calamitous sound and 10-minute songs typically consisted of singer Bruce Loose chanting a single phrase (e.g., “You’re so bored 'cause you’re so boring”) for what felt like an eternity, while guitarist Ted Falconi coaxed a thick sludge from his instrument potent enough to reduce a listener’s brain to pulp. It was repulsive and it was pure genius.

After bassist Will Shatter overdosed in the late ’80s, Flipper evaporated, only to reappear in the early ’90s with a disastrous record on Rick Rubin's Def American label that never should have been made. Loose battled the usual toxic brew of demons, finally besting a ferocious dope habit, only to suffer a terrible auto wreck that nearly killed him and left him with spinal issues that plague him to this day. But last year, after a European promoter pitched a reunion tour, Flipper announced they were re-forming, with former Jesus Lizard singer David Yow replacing Loose. The Yow-Flipper alliance can only be described as crass commercialism at its most venal and pointless, so contrary to everything Flipper did (or didn’t) represent, and a nasty slap in the face of Loose, who, despite being crazy as a loon, is a very sweet and brilliant artist.

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