Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby?

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

"This is not the greatest song in the world," Tenacious D once sang. "This is just a tribute."

The implication is clear. Jack Black and Kyle Gass think musical tributes are somehow inferior to the original bands they were inspired by. It's a common assumption among music fans: A cover band might rock, but they're no match for the real thing.

Does that statement really hold water, though?

There's no doubt it takes more artistic talent to create than to copy. In that sense, no tribute band can measure up to the originators. Performance, however, is an entirely different story. Some tribute bands have gotten so good at playing other people's hits that they can give the original artists a run for their money.

Things get even muddier when you consider the sad state of the "original" Guns N' Roses, Misfits and the newly reformed Sublime - three bands whose tribute acts come through Columbus this week. Let's compare the copycats with the real thing.

Appetite for Destruction: The Ultimate Tribute to Guns N' Roses

The originals: Guns N' Roses burst out of L.A. in the late 1980s and quickly became the grandstanding gold standard in hair metal. Their Appetite for Destruction is widely considered rock's greatest debut album, and singer Axl Rose and guitarist Slash are rock icons. In the mid '90s, feuds whittled the original lineup down until only Rose remained. He spent 17 years growing cornrows, occasionally touring with various replacement players (Buckethead?) and slavishly working on the long-awaited Chinese Democracy, which he finally released last fall. It sucked.

The tribute: Since 2000, the Raleigh, North Carolina, ensemble Appetite for Destruction has been traveling the country playing the hits from Guns N' Roses' golden era, 1987-93.

The verdict: With a stadium-sized sound system at their disposal, Axl's bunch of hired guns (heh) can probably outdo the tribute players. But then you'd also have to sit through the new stuff. Tribute band prevails!

What: Appetite for Destruction

When: 11 p.m. Saturday, March 14

Where: Flannagan's, Dublin


Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime

The originals: After building a cult fan base for their laid-back, frat boy-friendly combination of punk, ska and reggae, Sublime was on the verge of stardom in 1996 when singer Bradley Nowell died from a heroin overdose. A dozen years later, rumors began circulating that original bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh intended to "reunite" Sublime with a new singer-guitarist.

The tribute: In 2001, computer science students at the University of Rhode Island combined to play the music of Sublime. Their shows became an instant hit in Providence, and soon they had developed an avid following on the college circuit.

The verdict: We'll have to wait and see how this new singer pans out, but it seems like Wilson and Gaugh might be rusty after all these years. Conversely, Badfish is a proven commodity after eight years of playing these songs. Tribute band prevails!

What: Badfish

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

Where: Newport Music Hall, Campus