If you don’t see particularly well and maybe suffer from some kind of exceptional earwax buildup, you could be forgiven for wandering onto the grounds at Gexa Energy Pavilion this weekend and thinking you’ve found the greatest lineup ever assembled for a music festival. The Smiths. ZZ Top. The Beatles.
But it’s not meant to be. What is this trickery? The Smiths are never getting back together. The Beatles, as you know, are short a couple key members. The members of ZZ Top, while alive and well, would not be sporting fake beards.
The Throwback Festival boasts an all-star lineup of tribute bands, with 15 of the best next-best-things playing on three stages. It’s easy to scoff at the cover band, but forming a tribute act is a noble undertaking that gives fans all the flash of their favorite bands without kowtowing to constraints of cost or time.
This weekend’s festival has a decent share of acts from around the country, but you don’t have to go far to find ersatz rock stars. Here are five of the best tribute acts in town.
KISS has probably spawned more cover bands than any other act on the planet, from all-female tributes like the wonderfully named PRISS and SLUTTER to the little people lineup of Mini Kiss. It’s easy to see why KISS Inc. has inspired such devotion. The makeup, the pyrotechnics, and the good-times tunes make it look like a lot of fun to be the world’s showiest rock band. A good KISS tribute act can also count on the support of some of music’s most rabid fans. What other band has a fanbase that, without any irony whatsoever, refers to itself as an army?
It’s hard to stand out from the teeming masses of KISS cover bands, but Dallas’ Rock and Roll Over manages to hold its own in a competitive field. The group will never match the shock and awe live spectacle of the genuine article (fireworks are expensive), but Rock and Roll Over is one of the best next-best-things you’re going to find anywhere. They’ve got the look down, they’ve got the sound down, and they’ve got a low-budget knack for the kind of theatrics that make KISS the greatest rock show on earth.
A Smiths reunion in the 21st century is about as likely as airborne pigs or a lasting Israel-Palestine peace accord. You can still catch Johnny Marr live or (God help us all) a Morrissey solo concert, but your best bet for a Smiths fix in North Texas is going to be Panic, fronted by Josh Venable (formerly the voice of 102.1 The Edge’s Adventure Club) and filled out by members of Chomsky and other local bands. Venable’s basically a top-notch Smiths karaoke singer, but he nails Morrissey’s vocal tics and distinctly British affectations. The Smiths have a reputation for angst and moping about, but Panic seems to get that the band could also be a lot of fun.
A spooky good Robert Smith impersonation is the key to a Cure tribute band. Le Cure has that covered and then some with Mark Hernandez, a Robert Smith doppelganger if there ever was one. If you close your eyes, it’s easy to imagine you’re hearing the real deal, which is about the strongest compliment I can give a cover band. If you open your eyes and maybe squint a little bit, you can almost — kind of — imagine you’re even seeing the real deal.
You’ll find some semi-contentious online debate about how much the members of A Hard Night’s Day actually look like The Beatles (not much), but that’s mostly missing the point. The band rocks the Ed Sullivan-era suits, sure. It’s the sound that counts, though, and A Hard Night’s Day does about 200 of the most beloved songs of the 20th century justice. One of the longest-running tribute acts in North Texas, a Hard Night’s Day has gigged internationally, recorded at Abbey Road, and gotten a stamp of approval from one of the Beatles’ old managers, which gives them a nice amount of credibility in the cutthroat world of Fab Four cover bands.
Swan Song, formed in 1999, doesn’t replicate the look of Led Zeppelin as much as they pay tribute to the vibe. Zeppelin, at its best, was mysterious and epic. Those are pretty lofty words to apply to a cover band, but Swan Song sound great at replicating the musicianship that made Led Zeppelin such a powerhouse rock band.