Saluting tribute bands (sort of)

"Are you going to the Australian Pink Floyd show that's coming up at Ruth Eckerd?" my buddy Justin asked.

We were sitting at the bar Sunday and his inquiry caught me off guard. He and I have been listening to Pink Floyd since we were in our early teens. Justin, who caught the band's mid-'90s show at old Tampa Stadium, was part of a large group of us that attended the recent Roger Waters show at Ford Amphitheatre. It surprised me that he wanted to see this Floyd tribute band. I mean, does it get any less rock 'n' roll than sitting next to a bunch of baby boomers inside Ruth Eckerd Hall, watching some guys ape our music heroes?

"I saw them on PBS," Justin said. "[Australian Pink Floyd] do the whole Pulse-style light show. They sounded just as good as the band Waters put together."

The thought of attending a concert by a touring tribute band had never occurred to me. But after my conversation with Justin, which came the day after I attended Set the Night on Fire: A Tribute to The Doors, I reevaluated my strident, anti-tribute band stance. A stance that any self-respecting music critic must take.

Or, at least, has traditionally taken. But with tribute bands selling out venues like Ruth Eckerd Hall and Jannus Landing, how long will it be before the best of the homage acts start playing sports arenas like the St. Pete Times Forum and us snobby music critics are forced to pay attention?

After all, no one disses the Florida Orchestra for "covering" stuff written hundreds of years ago by guys like Bach and Mozart. Or backing Bogus Pomp (more on them in a moment).

While in college at USF I lived down the street from Skipper's Smokehouse and regularly attended the Grateful Dead night on Thursdays featuring Uncle John's Band. Those were good times. A couple months ago I went to one of their shows with friends and we all had a blast. No surprises, but spirited versions of songs I have dug since childhood. The ideal soundtrack for an evening of drunken revelry.

Like Uncle John's Band, the world-class Frank Zappa tribute band Bogus Pomp is also from Tampa. I saw BP at WMNF's recent birthday bash and they nearly stole the show. Granted, recreating Zappa's complex, pseudo-classical pieces takes a lot more chops than learning the chords to "Truckin'" — but more on that later.

The only other local tribute band I know of is Highway to Hell (pictured). I've never seen those guys, but they recently headlined a show at Jannus.

(For the record, I can't stomach tribute bands that try to recreate the aesthetic. Look at that picture! It's giggle-inducing.)

Oh yeah, and I caught the all-female Lez Zeppelin at a Sarasota Film Festival show a couple years back and, well, they rocked with all the sex and verve I can only imagine the original Zeppelin put across in their prime. If only their guitarist could've played one-tenth as good as Page.

And that band Australian Pink Floyd? Their Website says they played David Gilmour's birthday party when he turned 50. So, y'know, that's saying something.

Anyway, I'm working on a story about tribute bands. If there are any other local ones I haven't mentioned, please send me an e-mail or post a comment. If you're familiar with any national touring tribute bands worthy of mention, let me know.

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