Dwayne Gretzky @ El Mocambo

. : : June 15th, 2012 : : .

Starting a cover band is a strange and insanely difficult thing to do.

Almost all cover bands require a underlying theme that tie together the performance. Whether you’re a cover band solely dedicated to tribute a specific band (ie. Rain, the touring Broadway Beatles cover band), decade (ie. 70’s), genre (ie. 80’s pop), or combination of the three, you’re virtually guaranteed a built-in audience — but also one that’s extremely limited by pre-existing fandom of the artist or style you’re performing.

You also lock yourself into a bit of a box. After all, no one cares how great that original tune you wrote last week was, you’d better not break it out during your set of Pink Floyd tunes. You might really like that Led Zeppelin b-side track to an obscure Australian single, but if you don’t have Stairway To Heaven and When The Levee Breaks in the setlist, you’re not going to get a lot of repeat customers. Speaking of which, it is virtually impossible to monetize your performance with records. The licensing fees alone would be the final nail in most tribute bands’ coffins.

You can always run the risk of breaking the mold, and sticking to neither a single band, decade or genre, but immediately you can discount having that aforementioned built-in, guaranteed audience. You can also risk alienating what little audience you DO have by too frequently venturing from the well of their individual experience and knowledge of music. They may really love that cover of a Queen song you did, but if you follow it up with a Ke$ha cover and then a Blind Willie McTell song…well, odds are, they’re not going to follow.

Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and every rule written is meant to be broken.

How unlikely is it, then, that every rule is broken by a band with a somewhat silly, tongue-in-cheek name riffed from a long retired Hockey star? And yet, that’s exactly what has happens with Dwayne Gretzky.

From ’60s to ’00s and everything in between, the band jumps back and forth amongst all three standard divisions (again, that’s band/decade/genre) with ease and simplicity that is never as jarring as you might expect. Covering bands as diverse as The Cardigansthe Jackson 5 and Outkast in the same breath should be outlandish and ridiculous, but it’s old hat to loose and fluid members of Dwayne Gretzky.

Perhaps that’s why Young Lions Music Club selected them to be the headlining act for their North By North-East (NXNE) festival showcase. Or maybe it’s because the band’s boundless energy that kept the crowd’s rapt attention, evening into the waning hours of the night / early morning. Or maybe it’s just because they put on a damn fine show. Probably, though, it’s all of the above.

I can’t imagine many acts would be able to follow the performance of Teenage Kicks and keep a capacity crowd interested, but not only did Dwayne Gretzky succeed, but they also flourished. The eclectic mix of hit songs — many from eras long gone before the birth of much of the audience — had swarms of bodies dancing and singing like it was the last night on Earth.

The band was scheduled to take the stage at 2am, and a friend and local DJ whom was getting off work offered to pick up my friend and I and drive us home, so we wouldn’t have to take the mind-numbing late night public transit, or the expensive taxi services to my east end apartment. It was a deal I couldn’t refuse, and I told him, based on the set times, we should be ready to be picked up around 2:45. Of course, he showed up closer to 2:30, and sat parked out front, but the band continued well beyond their assumed set length. Guiltily transfixed, we couldn’t pull ourselves away — especially since each song sounded like it could have been the big set closer, but was quickly followed by yet another.

At roughly ten after 3, and after performances by Matthew GoodPaper Lions, and Teenage Kicks before them, my SD card finally filled to the very brim. My guilt for leaving a kind-hearted friend outside waiting for us was finally able to outweigh my guilt for producing an interrupted recording (mostly because I hadn’t a choice in the matter), and my guilt for dragging myself and friend away from a great set… but it had to have been almost over anyway, right?

Who could tell? The band was still going, the crowd was still having fun, but it was time to call it an evening and get some rest in preparation for another day of concerts, starting less than 12-hours later.

01. Let Me Roll It [Paul McCartney]
02. Say That You Love Me [Fleetwood Mac]
03. Domino [Van Morrison]
04. Call Me [Blondie]
05. Be My Baby [the Ronettes]
06. Pump It Up [Mudhoney]
07. All My Loving [the Beatles]
08. Eight Days A Week [the Beatles]
09. [banter]
10. S.O.S. [ABBA]
11. Born To Run [Bruce Springsteen]
12. The Boys Are Back In Town [Thin Lizzy]
13. Lovefool [the Cardigans]
14. Take On Me [Aha]
15. [banter]
16. Oh Darling! [the Beatles]
17. Life On Mars [David Bowie]
18. I Want You Back [the Jackson 5]
19. Hey Ya! [Outkast]

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Take On Me (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Very big thanks to Dwayne Gretzky, Young Lions Music Club and the El Mocambo for a wonderful NXNE.

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