Concert review: WMNF British Invasion Tribute Show at Skipper's Smokehouse

Locals played sets by artists ranging from the Rolling Stones to Them at the latest 'MNF tribute show; pics included.

click to enlarge The Mojo Gurus take on The Rolling Stones at WMNF's The British are Coming tribute Sat., June 13, 2015 - Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener
The Mojo Gurus take on The Rolling Stones at WMNF's The British are Coming tribute Sat., June 13, 2015

The Skipperdome rocked with a cacophony of British Invasion sounds this past Saturday night. Not so much cannons and musketry, but lots of electric guitars and wailing vocalists. WMNF's first ever installment of The British Are Coming began as the daydream of a pair of 'MNF DJs before slowly building momentum to a full-blown multi-band tribute concert paying homage to the 1960s music that came out of the UK and swept into American airwaves in the 1960s.

"Laurie Lou and I have always been a fan of that [1960s British rock] music, then she put a bug in my ear about doing a British Invasion show," WMNF DJ Flee explained. "When we booked this venue, we got it going as soon as we could."

Flee and Lou would have preferred to have thrown the party in 2014, marking the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' debut on the Ed Sullivan Show — an event widely considered the launch of the British Invasion — but Skipper's wasn't available at the time. When the June 13 date opened up, Flee jumped to secure it and started organizing the show. "We know a lot of local bands and we picked ones that fit [the genre]," Flee said.

Flee and Co. compiled a list of '60s bands they'd want to hear and made phone calls from there. Participating groups selected artists from the list, which were eliminated as they were chosen. "Then it really took off," Flee said, noting that the everything on the list was claimed but bands were reaching out and hoping to get booked. "The (Rancid) Polecats called, saying they wanted to do The Kinks." 

click to enlarge Jonathan Harrison of The Vodkanauts, taking on Tom Jones, 6/13/2015 - Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener
Jonathan Harrison of The Vodkanauts, taking on Tom Jones, 6/13/2015
And thus, what started as a modest tribute show ballooned into an extravaganza that kicked off two hours earlier than first planned, at 5 .m., and came to encompass 20 performers. The Delta 88s kicked off the show with a few numbers by The Yardbirds. Ella Jet, Glad All Over, and Robert Wegmann drew selections from different three consecutive years of The Beatles (1963, 1964, 1965). The Sara Rose Band re-imagined a few songs by Dusty Springfield. Americana act Will Quinlan delivered some Dovovan. But the Rancid Polecats really got the venue rocking with The Kinks selections from The Kinks, and set the stage for The Vodkanauts, a power lounge group that felt right at home laying down Tom Jones selections. "These are songs we've been doing for 12 years," lead singer Jonathan Harrison explained later.

It showed, as The Vodkanauts negotiated through swinging versions of "It's Not Unusual," "Delilah" and "She's a Lady," each with its own built-in transition to the next song. From the set's start, the crowd was brought to a excited apex and a buzzing, humming interlude going into Delilah working everyone up to hand-waving and singing along to "Delilah's" refrain. 

click to enlarge Ricky Wilcox and the Moonsnakes does The Who, 6/13/2015 - Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener
Ricky Wilcox and the Moonsnakes does The Who, 6/13/2015
WMNF shows always attract the most diverse denizen, and this night was no exception, its cornucopia yielding anyone from 20-something hipsters and rockabilly swingers to hippies and rockers in their 60s. The Vodkanauts gave way to Parson Brown performing The Hollies, which gave way to Ricky Wilcox and the Moonsnakes tackling upbeat renditions by The Who.

Wilcox and Company opened with "I Can't Explain," followed it up with "The Kids Are Alright" and "So Sad About Us." The patently recognizable songs and Wilcox's giant, windmill swipes of the guitar brought the crowd back to full throat sing-alongs until they wrapped the set with "Substitute."

click to enlarge Reservoir Troggs vs. The Troggs, 6/13/2015 - Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener
Reservoir Troggs vs. The Troggs, 6/13/2015
Playing the other side of the coin from the well-established Tom Jones-Vodkanauts connection, were The Reservoir Troggs. Don't recognize that name? That's because the group came together expressly for Saturday's tribute show. Tattoo artist Evil Don led a group of local musician friends in covers of cuts by The Troggs. Their set was both an homage to the 60s rock band as well as to 1992's Reservoir Dogs, leading off with classic selections like "I Can't Control Myself" and "Love Is All Around" before launching into gems like "Girl Like You" and "Wild Thing." Don and the Reservoir Troggs looked quite comfortable taking on the material despite Don's claim of a mere four rehearsals at Circle Studios beforehand, and proved himself a fine frontman, though he would've sold it better with Trogg lead singer Reg Presley's characteristic sideways head bob. During "Wild Thing," the dwindling crowd poured back in from the woodwork and reinvigorated the show just in time for Little Sheba and The Shamans to take the stage with their presentation of Them.

Little Sheba lead singer Ari Little delivered one of the night's most entertaining tributes and a rocking, modern fusion of the two acts. First, Little strolled onto the stage in throwback fashion — black-and-white checked '60s mod-style mini dress with matching headband. Her deep, sultry vocal quality proved a nice lovely feminine for those of Them's (male) lead singer, Van Morrison. "Bright Lights Big City" was followed by "Baby Please Don't Go" and topped only by was is arguably Them's best-known cut, "Gloria." Little brought a healthy dose of soul to the performance and offered a kinky twist on the lyrics as sung from the female perspective. "We really like Gloria and Them, we were glad they were still available," Little said. "There were a few bands left [to choose from] but Them really fits us, they're more what we normally play - it was not much of a stretch for us."

click to enlarge Kevin Steel leads Mojo Gurus through a set of Stones, 6/15/2015 - Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener
Kevin Steel leads Mojo Gurus through a set of Stones, 6/15/2015
Headliners, the Mojo Gurus capped off the night with The Rolling Stones, arguably the biggest band to come out of Britain that's remains active today. The Gurus' Southern rock spin on the Stones tracks found lead singer Kevin Steele howling and crooning through  "Satisfaction," "Get off My Cloud" and "The Last Time."

Flee, who played emcee for the evening, led the people who remained in a Mojo Gurus chant to draw the band back onstage for an encore, which they happily delivered in "Paint it Black," a wildly-appropriate finale for a Saturday edging towards midnight.

Tropical Heatwave aside, tribute shows have always been WMNF's bread and butter, and the raucous crowd who landed at Skipper's showed their appreciation for this rather special edition one while also contibuting to WMNF's summer membership drive. There are talks about a redux, The British Are Coming II. I'll keep my fingers crossed, and look forward to the next tentatively planned tribute, to Frank Sinatra in December


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