variations on a theme
Hiding under the covers
Report has often sought out the working-class musicians for
whom the light of stardom either doesn't beckon or never would.
But even in such a seemingly broad category, the numbers
are quite slim. Said musicians are those lucky enough to find places
that will let them play original compositions and are lucky
enough (sometimes) to find an audience of any size that appreciates
what they do.
on trees: percussion proliferates in P-town.
For the vast majority of musicians in Portland (it's often said
that if you want a drummer here, you need only shake a tree) the
playing field is liberally scattered, nay, covered, with cover tunes
and cover bands.
Club owners daring enough to book live music often want only the
broadest appeal and most palatable music. That's why if you randomly
select a club and night, your chances of finding a blues band, a
cover band or a one-in-the-same band are pretty good ...
... It happened to be a mid-November Thursday at Portland's Buffalo
Gap. It could have been any day of any month in Anytown, U.S.A.
The cover band was Slow Burn. And God bless them, because there
are few enough places even wanting to risk any kind of live band.
Witness the proliferation of DJ dance nights, where all the nasty
variables are reduced to one fader knob. Or karaoke, where the nasty
variables are just plain nasty.
So what does your average cover band look like? Dare I say four
white guys between 27 and 50, with a few infrequent variations for
variety? Slow Burn seems to fit the bill.
I may be mistaken but likely their true provenance is a basement
or garage somewhere in suburban Portland, where they meet weekly
to hash out the standards and try an original or two. Though they
spend far too much time at it as far as their wives are concerned,
playing those tunes playing anything is their lifeblood
and salvation from the day-to-day.
another beer, fella: it very well might be the common denominator.
Maybe I'm taking too many liberties, but what else can you say
about a band that will trot out a cover so crusty, it's more recognized
for its myriad bastardized TV-commercial uses, such as "Rescue
Me" by Fontella Bass, then immediately turn in a nearly unrecognizable
version of Willie Dixon's "Back Door Man"?
Just grab another beer, fella.
Up next is "The Ballad Of John And Yoko," sung as if
by Julian Cope's Astoria-born-and-raised brother.
Actually, the unique voicing and stylistic adjustments given to
some of these tunes indeed rescue them from the clutches of sonic
wallpaper territory. If you can't tell what the cover you are listening
to actually is, you're more apt to approach it with an open mind.
Another saving grace for Slow Burn (and pretty much standard equipment
in any cover band) is a good soloist on guitar.
grace: solos can acquit a cover band.
While the other guys acquit themselves mostly with the ability
to simply play the songs, the lead guitarist delivers something
for the apathetic, drunken patrons (e.g. me and my friend) to focus
in on between bouts of job-related vitriol.
That said, it might have been the beer or the dude's Gibson, but
I thought I detected a bit of Robert Fripp inspiration in the nimble,
loopy solos which might as well be twice as long within the
Because that's the territory you tread in a cover band, whether
standing before a dozen dancing teens or 13 boozed-up clock-punchers.
People want something on which to zone out. Maybe they're trying
to hold a conversation and wish the music could fade into the back
of their minds.
Or maybe they're out there just because they want to see music,
any kind of music, and they're not too picky, and noble variations
on a theme are all they really need.