In addition to seeing “real” rock & roll shows, I enjoy going to free summer outdoor concerts, especially when they feature cover bands of my favorite rock & roll stars. While there are many such bands and not all are created equal, some of them do a fantastic job and come pretty darn close to the real thing.
Many moons ago, I played in a band myself, and part of what we did was covers. And while I’m not trying to say we were as good as some of the bands I’m going to talk about, I think I can appreciate the effort that goes into faithfully covering your rock & roll heroes.
Following are four cover bands I greatly enjoyed seeing this summer. Each represents great musicianship and a passion for detail to bring the music of rock & roll legends to fans and help keeping it alive. While I got to see them for free, their shows typically require tickets. Just like for any endorsements in previous posts, I have neither received any compensation for reviewing these bands, nor do I look for any such payments.
The Glimmer Twins
The Glimmer Twins are a Rolling Stones tribute band hailing from Philly, PA. Their name is the nickname Mick Jagger and Keith Richards adopted for their song writing partnership in the late 60s. While unfortunately I missed more than half of their free show in Wildwood Crest, NJ at the end of July, the remainder I saw was worth every minute and the significant amount of time I spent driving there from Central Jersey. Essentially, the band performs the Stones’ greatest hits but there is more to it.
Lead singer Keith Call and guitarist Bernie Bollendorf act like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively. Keith does a great job imitating Jagger’s moves, his British accent and making the kinds of on-stage comments you’d expect hearing during a Rolling Stones show – it’s kind of hilarious! Bernie, apart from nicely capturing Richards’ guitar parts, adds to Keith’s act by sticking cigarettes in his mouth while playing, just like Richards! And while the remaining members of the band – Mike Rubino (guitar), Chris Bollendorf (drums), Rob Eckstedt (bass), Valorie Steel (vocals) and Bobby Michaels (sax-flute) – don’t look like the Stones and their tour musicians, they do a nice job capturing the sound of the “Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World.”
The Glimmer Twins have a very active touring schedule that in addition to New Jersey includes various other states, mostly on the East Coast. Some of their upcoming gigs include Leesburg, VA (Oct. 1), Dubois, PA (Oct. 2), Wilmington, DE (Oct. 7 & 8) and Atlantic City (Oct. 14). For more information, see the band’s tour schedule on their home page or visit their Facebook page.
As their name indicates, EagleMania covers the songs of The Eagles. I was able to catch one of their free concerts at Etra Park in Hightstown, NJ in late July. Between their amazing vocal harmonizing and their instrumental arrangements, doing justice to the great music of The Eagles is not an easy task, but these six veteran musicians do a beautiful job.
The band’s slogan, “The World’s Greatest Tribute Band,” reflects their ambition to faithfully capture the sound of the The Eagles note by note. In addition to performing classics like The Long Run, Take It Easy, Desperado and of course Hotel California, the band also covers solo work from Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh, such as Boys of Summer, Party Town and Life is Good.
The band includes Frankie Reno (keyboards & vocals), Joe Gaechter (guitar & vocals), Ken Darcey (guitar & vocals), Steve French (lead vocals), Jon Weiswasser (drums) and Kevin Hummel (bass). They all have played music for many years and some have worked with pretty big names, for example Gaechter with Roger Daltrey and Jack Bruce, and Reno with Marshall Tucker and Ace Frehley.
Danny V’s 52nd Street Band
Established in New Jersey in 1994, Danny V’s 52nd Street Band is the “world’s longest running tribute to Billy Joel,” according to their web site. I saw them at Waterfront Park in Carteret, NJ at the end of August, which is a nice intimate outdoor venue right by the water.
Listening to Dan Vechesky (Danny V) and his seven-member band comes very close to listening to the piano man himself, which I had the pleasure to do in 2002 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Vechesky’s way to play the piano and his singing are strikingly similar to Billy Joel. It is obvious he has listened to Joel for a long time and taken great care to learn his songs note by note.
In fact, Vechesky even had a chance to the meet the man in May 1974 while working with the stage crew at a Billy Joel concert. It would take another 20 years before he gathered talented musicians from the New York Metropolitan area to form the 52nd Street Band, named after Joel’s 1978 album.
Appropriately, the band’s performance includes various songs from that Grammy winning album, such as Big Shot, Honesty and My Life. They also pretty much play all the other songs Joel includes in his concerts like She’s Got a Way, Captain Jack, The Entertainer, New York State of Mind, You May Be Right, Pressure and of course Piano Man, to name some.
The 52nd Street Band includes Ed Kuri (guitar, vocals), Troy Rusnack (bass), Keith Droz (drums, vocals), Matt O’Connor (horns, acoustic guitar, vocals), Greg Grispart (horns), Mike LaBuono (keyboards, vocals) and Joe Ferrante (keyboards, vocals). These musicians do a fantastic job backing up Vechesky with great attention to detail, just like Danny.
The band had a pretty busy touring summer (July and August) and as of September appears to have slowed down. The only current upcoming show listed on their web site is in Bordentown, NJ (Oct 15). Visit their web site and Facebook page for more information.
The Blues Brotherhood
The Blues Brotherhood from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley are a tribute band to The Blues Brothers. I saw them in mid-August as part of Musikfest at SteelStacks in Bethlehem, PA, a pretty cool venue at what used to be the home plant of steel giant Bethlehem Steel. These guys are pretty amazing both musically and in terms of their visual presentation.
From the first note to the last tune it is as if Jake Blues and Elliot Blues have come back from the past. The two guys who are performing John Belushi’s and Dan Aykroyd’s parts – Paul Miller and Aaron Hetrick – look and move like Jake and Elliott, and their singing is pretty good, too. They even enact the part of the 1980 movie where they perform at the Palace Hotel Ballroom north of Chicago, greeting the law enforcement officers in the audience – simply hilarious!
The band does an outstanding job backing up Miller and Hetrick and playing classics like She Caught the Katy, Gimme Some Lovin, Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Sweet Home Chicago and, not to forget, Soul Man. Apparently, they sometimes play with two of The Blues Brothers’ original members, Tom “Bones” Malone (trombone, saxophone) and Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin (trumpet, percussion, backing vocals). Other members of The Blues Brotherhood include Steve “Stevie B” Bridges (saxophone), Barry “The Beast” Schultz (trumpet), Dustin “Credible” Hartman (trombone), Rob Bell (guitar), Ty Hooker-Haring (bass), Bob “B.T.” Thomas (keyboards/piano) and Willie “Too Big” Rose (drums).