Ever since the Buggs and Elvis impersonators became popular, tribute bands have always been a staple in music entertainment. Tribute cover bands serve as a great way for bands who are perhaps getting too old to perform, or the more morbid side of it, for bands whose members are no longer with us, to be injected, to avoid a pun here, with more life. Unlike cheese, bands do not get riper with age but tribute bands are sort of a way to pick a rotting cheese off the shelf and repackaging it and calling it “blue cheese” and “decadent”. Many would argue the Strokes aren’t getting worse with age, despite being in the game for over a decade now, and people who’ve listened to their most recent Future, Present, Past EP would agree they are losing their touch a bit. But the Strokes are well into middle age now and have lost touch with their 2001, Is This It selves. The band no longer play dingy, and smoky, packed venues, nor do they indulge in on-stage antics with intense audience participation, tossing microphone stands like javelins. Luckily enough for us, The Smokes, pulled us into a time machine, said “where we’re going, we don’t need synthesisers!”, and took us back to a time around 2006 where The Strokes were in full swing and were filled with youth and energy.
The band was supported by the lively and charming Cribs cover band, The New Fellas. Having never really listened to the Cribs myself, the band still administered an energetic and animated atmosphere into the mostly empty Yah Yah’s bandroom. As their set continued and they even performed an original, a ballsy but strange move for a COVER band, the room filled up and people inched closer to the boundary-less stage. The band also graced us with awkward stage banter about eating “burritos” and “churros” which may be an impression of the band (?) but it came off as an amateur attempt to distract people from the tense atmosphere they created after performing 2 hours after the promised 8pm start. The three-piece added a nice touch by including a Replacements cover the Cribs once performed to their set and came off as delightfully entertaining for even non-Cribs fans. The few fans in the audience were singing-along and dancing to the support act which was endearing to see in itself. In post-punk fashion, the lead-guitarist and singer indulged with his guitar’s feedback capabilities, deafening all with a punky overuse of interference, hissing and distortion between songs (the first few times were charming). Overall, it’s hard to comment on whether their mimicry was accurate, but the important part of The New Fellas’ performance was that you really didn’t need to be a fan of the band they were impersonating to have an enjoyable but illegally short 30 minutes or so. The band were just straight up entertaining in their own right.
After their set ended, and Yah Yah‘s tested their audience’s respiratory systems by pumping even more theatrical smoke into the now packed venue, anticipation followed suit and filled the room. One by one, “Alberto Hammered Junior” tested his Fender Stratocaster, a favourite of the band’s Albert Hammond Junior, and “Nicholas Frappucino” awkwardly waddled on stage and plugged in his true to life Fender Bass. In true Strokes fashion, the band all arrived on stage quite late at 11pm, with an uncanny Julian Casablancas: “Julio Casablanco”, Nick Valensi on lead guitar: “Mick Valenso” and on drums, Fab Moretti: “Fabreze Forgetti” all skulking on stage. “Julio” was clad in denim and wore a sarcastic “I Love NY” shirt. The band were all dressed in a similar fashion to what the band would wear back in ’06.
As the band got underway, the Converse wearing fans robed in leather bopped to the very awkward-to-dance-to “Is This It” for starters. The band continued to perform all the hits from “The Modern Age” to “You Only Live Once” and “Reptilia”. The Julian Casalancas impersonator was almost supernatural to watch as he cradled his microphone stand and sheepishly stumbled around the tiny stage. Many had to rub their eyes in disbelief to make sure the band wasn’t just ploying them into thinking the actual Strokes band came instead of a cover band. The singer’s pastiche presence on stage was strikingly authentic to the real thing and props must be given to him. The band must be massive Strokes fans for their physical impressions of the band were perfect to a tee. “Alberto” held his guitar high up on his chest like the real Albert, “Nicholas” made no sudden movements and gazed at his shoes more than My Bloody Valentine ever did and “Fabreze” grooved along to his energetic and intense beats.
In terms of musical performance, the band suffered from fan expectation. Of course, the band did not sound perfectly authentic to the studio version, the Strokes can’t even do that, but the dastardly difficult introduction riff to “Heart In A Cage” failed to keep pitch and tempo, which came off as slightly jarring to hear. Almost in a sort of ironic turn of events, “Julio” forgot the often forgotten lyrics to “You Only Live Once”, and complimented his frustration with Casablancan profanities and swears.
Guitar solos were performed fairly accurately, but again, expecting the band to do the solos exactly the same way as the studio version is far too optimistic. The band had great energy together, and their chemistry brought the songs to life and made the audience dance as if it was in fact 2001. Fans went absolutely mental, and exaggerations aside, they went insane. This band inoculated these surprisingly younger fans with an animation that can only be described as absolute love for a band. The fans really did go wild, in fact one fan was pulled on stage during “Take It Or Leave It” and had an absurdly passionate impromptu stage presence that made “Julio” sulk off in envy. Sadly enough, the band’s setlist spanned only the first three albums, omitting the devout-fan favourites Angles and Comedown Machine. Despite this omission, a dick-move from the band was an inclusion of Triple J favourite “Threat Of Joy” from this year’s EP which is a nice song but not a fan favourite in any stretch of the imagination. The absurdness of this inclusion was amplified when the singer didn’t even know the lyrics and bent down to read the lyrics off a sheet of paper on the ground. This song could’ve been replaced with fan favourites like “Ize Of The World”, “Barely Legal” (the exclusion of this song was seriously unlawful) or even “12:51” to compliment the era of Strokes they were trying to impersonate.
All in all, the music was fantastic and it realised my dreams of seeing the band at Splendour in the Grass earlier this year, a show which I attended vicariously online. It was quite magical to see one of your favourite bands of all time on stage but at the same time not seeing one of your favourite bands of all time on stage. It is a sort of indescribable feeling. It is really a “you have to be there” kind of emotion, to see what resembles a band you hold so dear performing very accurately.
The New Fellas and The Smokes are a new and intriguing kind of cover band. For, instead of paying homage to the greats like Led Zeppelin or Queen, these tribute acts celebrate only a decade old band. Authentic and carefully performed acts like these make potential tributes to the Arctic Monkeys or The Libertines a fantastic prospect, and should be embraced with the passion and intensity put into the two bands. Tribute cover bands, despite their sort of lazy and plagiaristic reputation are a bunch of fun and The Smokes and The New Fellas were no exception to that rule.