An Undercover Weekend and its like-minded events are fun for so many reasons. The concert series, in which local combos don the guise of a famous band/artist and play its/his/her music, allows bands to jump outside of their comfort zone, play to new audiences and pay homage to their favorite artists.
The audience is rewarded with a diverse lineup of talented musicians playing the music of acts that probably wouldn't share a bill on something short of Farm Aid. In short, great local bands + beloved music = a hugely entertaining show. Saturday's concert was no exception to this equation. The show featured the emerging talents of the Sham, the Dive Poets, John Henry & The Engine, Fattback and the Monads covering the songs of Tears for Fears, John Mellencamp, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Talking Heads and Andrew W.K, respectively. All of the acts did their alter egos justice and made sure that nobody in the sizable crowd left unhappy.
The Sham started things off with a quick but memorable five-song set as
Tears for Fears. Singer/guitarist Chris Phillips hilariously started
the set by introducing the band in character with a fake British
accent. The for-the-night six-piece (The Sham is usually a quartet)
then launched into "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and sounded
completely at ease with the Tears for Fears sound. Immediately,
everyone in the band locked into the song's shuffling groove and just
clicked as a unit. Powering through, "Head Over Heels," "Mad World,"
"Change" and "Shout," The Sham seemed to draw its strength from its
rhythm section. Although the band's parts might not have been difficult,
bassist Joel Burton and drummer Nathan Larson were perfectly in-sync
with each other and air-tight, which created a solid foundation on which to
build. It also didn't hurt that The Sham did a fantastic job of
replicating the timbre of Tears' instruments. All that was left was for
Phillips to nail the vocals, and for the most part he did. He gave a
solid portrayal of both Tears singers and sold the blue-eyed soul of
"Head Over Heels" well. Only during a few off-key sections in "Mad
World" and "Shout" did Phillips struggle. Otherwise, The Sham was
terrific as Tears (though I wish they wouldn't have been so faithful to
the overly-long ending in "Shout").
The Dive Poets as John Mellencamp were next. I'm going to level with
you: I don't care much for John Mellencamp. I've always found his voice
and lyrics to be preening and cocky in a very unappealing way that
overwhelms the few songs of his that I would otherwise enjoy. To be
fair, my dislike of some of his bigger songs has kept me from giving
his other tunes a chance. With this in mind, I tried my best to go into
The Dive Poets' set with as open of a mind as possible, hoping that the
group would expose me to a side of Mellencamp I hadn't seen.
Aside from "Rain on the Scarecrow," The Dive Poets did not convert me
to the Mellencamp. What they did do was provide an energetic and
soulful tribute to the Coug' that a non-fan such as myself could
appreciate. Augmented by two female backup singers, The Dive Poets tore
into rockers "Hurts So Good" and "Authority Song" with aplomb and
deftly handled slower moments like "Small Town" and "Jack and Diane,"
the latter of which provoked a massive sing-along in the crowd. Having
Rachel Parkin on the violin certainly helped on some of the ballads and
her instrument provided an interesting touch on the songs that didn't
have it to begin with. Eric Sargent also channeled Mellencamp voice
well (too well for my taste). The Dive Poets closed on a rousing
version of "R.O.C.K in the U.S.A." the merged into The Romantics' "What
I Like About You," confirming my suspicion that they are indeed the
same song. All in all, any Mellencamp fan would have loved this
well-executed set and if they couldn't make me detest Pink Houses
less, they at least didn't make me hate it more.
John Henry and the Engine took the stage as Creedence Clearwater
Revival. This was pretty much perfect casting. Although the group is
most often compared the Springsteen, CCR's rootsy rock is also a clear
influence and John Henry's breathy, sincere vocals are a good match for
John Fogerty's distinctive howl. This made it a little odd that
keyboardist-turned-third guitarist Wes Wingate sang half of the songs,
but his confident performance overcame the fact that his piercing voice
was incongruent with Fogerty's. As expected, the Engine had CCR's sound
down-pat and despite the group being from Missouri, you would have
believed otherwise with their take on "Born on the Bayou." The guy who
yelled "FUCK YEAH!" after they finished the song sure seemed to. They
were in their zone playing songs like "Susie Q," "Green River," and the
aforementioned "Bayou," but the set lost some momentum due to the fact
that all of these songs traded in a similar sounding swamp-boogie.
While it was nice to see a band not go for the obvious hits, "Lookin'
Out the Back Door" and "Bad Moon Rising" would have sounded great in
the band's hands and helped break up the monotony. "Travelin' Band"
eventually achieved this goal before the band ripped into the
set-closer "Fortunate Son." To borrow a word event organizer and emcee
Mike Tomko used, John Henry and the Engine totally slayed the classic.
Tomko introduced Fattback (as the Talking Heads) as the only band
that's played all three years of Undercover Weekend. From the first few
notes of "Psycho Killer" it was clear that this group was experienced
at dressing up as another band. John Joern in particular was uncanny
at inhabiting the role of frontman David Byrne. The wig, the suit and
the glasses all helped but he didn't need them when his vocal imitation
of Byrne was that freakishly accurate. And while I'm not sure if Byrne
used the dance moves and gestures Joern did, they all seemed quite
Bryrneian and in character. Joern's fantastic depiction of Byrne and
his natural stage presence made it easy to forgive his lame move of
reading lyrics off of a music stand. The rest of the band was just
about as good. Sean Dallmeyer got some great Talking Heads tones out of
his guitar and Grady Breidanbach's keyboards were spot on. Even the
additional percussionist that joined the group halfway through the set
captured the nuances of the seminal New York band. The set stuck to the
group's most recognizable songs; as expected, the audience heard "Once
in a Lifetime," "Life During Wartime," "This Must Be the Place (Naïve
Melody)," "Wild Wild Life," and "Burning Down the House," in addition
to "Psycho Killer." Everything went smoothly except for "Once in a
Lifetime." For a song that relies on a wall of sound, only hitting the
hi-hat on the quarter notes and not doing much more on the cowbell
isn't going to cut it. Then again, this was probably just my own
nitpicky complaint because the audience was too busy dancing to either
notice or care.
When I heard that the Monads were going to take on the music of Andrew
W.K., I first thought that they were going to give his music a punky
bluegrass makeover by playing with the group's usual banjo, fiddle, upright
and guitar setup. Had I
done my homework
, I would have known that they plugged in for their
rendition of Devo's music last year, but I was still a bit surprised
when I saw electric guitars and keyboards. Maybe a little disappointed
too (how awesome would bluegrass AWK be?). Still, the Monads rocked it.
With Fattback's Dave Hagerty joining the expanded lineup on guitar, the
Monads successfully thrashed out a faithful portrayal of the
overwhelming AWK sound. Donning a long black wig to look the part, Pat
flailed around and banged his head while conveying Andrew's message
that "It's Time to Party," to "Party Hard," and then "Party til you
Puke," all of which were soundtracked to furious pounding keyboards,
booming drums and a ridiculously loud two guitar attack. The crowd was
certainly receptive to this message. The dancing was chaotic and I even
saw one guy slam a beer in the middle of the mosh pit. Pat gave a shout
out to the wildest three partiers who were almost too much. One person
in this group responded by getting on stage, putting his head between
Pat's legs, lifting him up piggyback style and dancing for about 30
seconds to the beginning of one song. Thankfully he let Pat down more
gently than he did another piggybacking crowd member when both toppled
over in the descent. Although the rest of the crowd wasn't THAT
enthusiastic, it was hard not to go nuts with the Monads driving at
full speed. Drawing their set exclusively from I Get Wet
one song), there were none of AWK's slower moments. As it should have
been, the set was entirely made of hard-charging party jams and by the
end of it the crowd's faces were sufficiently rocked off.
In total, this undercover night was a tremendous success for everyone
involved and a blast to attend. You can't ask for much more.