. : : April 16th, 2013 : : .
It is a familiar trope so ingrained in North American culture that it has become a caricature of itself: basement bars across the continent featuring dimly lit stages occupied by various variations of the same theme — the cover band. Impersonators, tributes, genre and era-revivalists, the configurations are virtually endless. But then, there’s cover bands, and then there’s Dwayne Gretzky.
OK, I know I’ve blogged about these guys before. A lot. And it’s always been unabashedly universal praise for their live energy, note-perfect, faithful recreations of classic songs that span both genres and decades. And most readers who have never been to a Dwayne Gretzky show instantly glaze over, stifle a yawn, and think to themselves, “A cover band? Harrumph. Bring on the latest indie rock or local roots musicians I come to this blog for.”
I can’t underscore what a horrible disservice these readers are doing to themselves.
OK, fair. Maybe a fair chunk of the fun of a Dwayne Gretzky show is in experiencing the performance itself. Toronto-area fans who have seen the band countless times may find an audience audio recording lacking — without the room full of shuffling twenty-somethings dancing shoulder to shoulder, drunkenly sing-screaming along the lyrics to songs of their parents’ generation while raising their beers over their heads, does the energy and excitement translate? Similarly, does the recording convey that very energy and excitement contained within the walls of the room that elevates their performance so immensely to those whom have never had the experience of a Dwayne Gretzky show? Or does it just sound like another basement bar cover band?
It’s a conundrum for sure. The frame of reference for the Dwayne Gretzky show is both necessary AND a hindrance to the utmost enjoyment or a recorded representation of it.
But I hope there’s a sweet spot in between this dichotomy: perhaps fans who want to relive these shows, and re-construct an imaginary representation of the experience, and/or new listeners willing to forgive the limitations of the medium’s ability to showcase how essential audience participation is to the enjoyment of such a performance. I’d estimate that most people frequenting a live music blog such as this one are likely to fall into this latter category, as the challenge isn’t solely inherent in a recording of a cover band specifically — but likely, the challenge is greater still.
Fandom in performers of original material pre-supposes specific interest in the oeuvre of that performer. To be a fan of, let’s say, Kathleen Edwards, you have to like Kathleen Edwards’ songs. A cover band as varied as Dwayne Gretzky similarly pre-supposes interest, but in a much more general term. Without original material to call its own, it requires a much broader, universal affection (or at least tolerance) of popular music since the 1960’s.
Regardless, this Dwayne Gretzky show is perhaps the best introduction to the band, because you get two extraordinarily different, exceptional performances. A more focused, specific first set, and a regular pastiche that is a standard set.
The band performed an opening set that was a faithful front-to-back cover of Fleetwood Mac‘s seminal Dreams album — one of my all-time favourites. Its fixation not only on a specific band, but on a specific album allows for the former group of listeners (those whom are pre-supposed to be fans of a singular band or collection of material) to appreciate the sheer craftsmanship that goes into constructing a Dwayne Gretzky re-creation. Interestingly the performance was scheduled to coincide with Fleetwood Mac’s return to Toronto — as the classic act took to a brightly lit stage in a stadium full of deep pocketed baby boomers across town, this tribute was held in the dimly lit, musky Great Hall filled wall-to-wall with the baby boomers’ offspring.
The second set, after a forty-five minute or-so intermission, was the chaotic, wildly, wonderfully unfocused mash-up of material that Nick Rose, Tyler Kyte, Allie Hughes et al are known for. Jumping from the Jackson 5 to the Beatles to Queen and Paul Simon, the set list was all over the place and the audience ate it up. If there’s anything predictable about a Dwayne Gretzky set, it is just how unpredictable it will be.
The recording, on the other hand? Well, this was the first I noticed the problem that would plague all future recordings to date (and is perhaps the cause of it?). Depending on who you believe, either my microphones have become defective, or the A/D converter in my recording gear is on the frtiz. Either way, it’s not the world’s greatest recording — definitely not the representation of such a wonderful evening that I wanted to post on this blog, and likely the reason it’s taken me some seven months to post it — but far from unlistenable.
I’m including an MP3 sample of the fantastic show-stopping finale, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. If you don’t fall in love with it, maybe a Dwayne Gretzky recording isn’t for you.
But, you know, if you get a chance to see them live, you still totally should. The sum of the experience is so much more than its digital sound wave parts.
SET 01: PERFORMING FLEETWOOD MAC – RUMOURS
01. Second Hand News
03. Never Going Back
04. Don’t Stop
05. Go Your Own Way
07. The Chain
08. You Make Loving Fun
09. I Don’t Want To Know
10. Oh Daddy
12. Gold Dust Woman
02. 10th Avenue Freeze Out [Bruce Springsteen]
03. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover [Paul Simon]
04. Heartbreaker [Pat Benatar]
06. Bloody Well Right [Supertramp]
07. Psycho Killer [Talking Heads]
08. What Is and What Should Never Be [Led Zeppelin]
10. Barracuda [Heart]
11. [technical difficulties]
12. Oh Darling! [The Beatles]
13. Suffragate City [David Bowie]
14. Killing Me Softly [Roberta Flack] [Fugees version]
15. Under Pressure [Queen]
17. You Can Call Me Al [Paul Simon]
18. I Want You Back [Jackson 5]
19. With A Little Help From My Friends [the Beatles] [Joe Cocker version]
21. Blinded By The Light [Bruce Springsteen] [Manfred Mann version]
22. Bohemian Rhapsody [Queen]