Watching a U2 Tribute Band vs. hearing a U2 cover

As far as I’m concerned, the more U2 there is out there, the better.  Even if it’s bad U2, it’s still fun.  Goodness knows I’ve heard bad renditions of songs by bands that I cannot stand, so it’s obvious to me that I may as well get some enjoyment out of a cover version of a U2 song, no?

That being said, I’m definitely not elitist enough to believe that there’s no such thing as a good U2 cover – not at all.  It’s always a pleasant surprise to hear a cover band perform a U2 song, but as überfans we want something far more than that.  What is it that makes watching a bunch of guys playing U2 songs tolerable to a U2 fan?  It’s the little things – did “Bono” invest in an appropriate pair of sunglasses?  How about a Gretsch Irish Falcon?  (And, like real Bono, he doesn’t necessarily need to know how to play it, we just need to see if it’s there.)  Is “The Edge” playing a Gibson Explorer?  Does he have more than one guitar?  And for goodness sakes, is he getting the delay just right? (…and is he wearing black Converse?  An era-appropriate hat?  Did he shave his facial hair into a perfect little goatee?  And are there rhinestones?  There must be rhinestones! I could go on…)

These are the things that make a U2 Tribute band – they need to dress and act the part, not just play the songs.  Relatively speaking though, that’s the easy part.  Playing the songs is where we differentiate the elite from the mediocre.

The only U2 tribute band I’ve seen to date, is the excellent Canadian (yay!) Elevation out of Toronto.  Elevation is good enough to get a now-yearly St. Patrick’s Day weekend gig at Raglan Road, the Irish pub at Disney World in Orlando.  And Elevation, well, they’ve spoiled me.  In addition to being a great bunch of personable and fun guys, these boys are musiciansShawn Brady, who plays Bono, really can play his Gretsch Irish Falcon – and in addition to playing the front man in Elevation, he also plays with a few local bands in Toronto, as well as does his own popular solo acoustic circuit.  Where he finds time for a day-job, I’ll never know.

Now, I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tell you that what really makes me such a fan of Elevation is their Edge, Kevin Strom. Kevin is a very skilled guitarist, and if you meet him, he’ll tell you that playing Edge is “easy”.  When I watch him, he really does make it look easy, but it’s because he’s been playing the guitar for around 30 years, and he most definitely knows his way around a delay pedal.  What is truly amazing about him is that when he is limited to the gear he can use when he is traveling by air, he can replicate virtually everything the Edge does – all with two guitars, his Les Paul Gold Top and his Fender Strat (and yes, of course he has an Explorer – but he can only take so much on a plane!)  He also uses a Vox amp, showed yours truly an E-Bow for the very first time, and has a whole pile of magical effects pedals which allow him to recreate all of those wonderful sounds that David Howell Evans gets out of a guitar.  Impressive to say the least!

Mick Barnard (Adam) and John Johnstone (Larry) are also incredible musicians – Mick has the Adam-pose down pat (not to mention his perfectly formed bass lines), and John’s stamina and skill is admirable throughout the show as he actually DOES care if you are ready to rock.

Kevin Strom (The Edge) and Shawn Brady (Bono) of Elevation Canada

Kevin Strom (The Edge) and Shawn Brady (Bono) of Elevation Canada

In addition to all of that, Elevation has an absolutely awe-inspiring repertoire – bonus points for Van Diemen’s Land and Mofo!  The real beauty of a talented U2 tribute band is the ability to hear all the songs that you can only dream of – Hawkmoon 269 or Acrobat, anyone?

I’m hitting the road in a couple of weeks for a 6 hour drive to Calgary to see Elevation on March 11th, and I’ll be writing another review on my blog when I return.  6 hours to see a tribute band?  When they are this good, absolutely!

Along with seeing U2 themselves this summer, there are a fair number of U2 tribute bands out there, and I’m going to be sampling at least 2 that I haven’t seen before – UZoo out of Nashville on July 1st and Zoo Station out of San Francisco (in Seattle on June 3rd).  They both have equally impressive lists of songs they perform, but I will reserve all judgment until I pick their respective “Edges” apart in both wardrobe and musical prowess.  No pressure, guys!