Sometimes a diva has better things to do than to go to a big headliner show. Sure, with one phone call or email I could have been sitting at Front of House at the Rod Stewart show Saturday night, chatting away with the amazingly talented Lars Bogard, a true master of the sound board, but I already had a prior commitment on my calendar: band rehearsal.
Yep, that’s right…Photo Diva is in a band. You seem surprised. Hey…why are you so surprised? I am a diva after all. And it’s not just any band: it’s a full-on 10-piece horn band named Rev Bill and the Soul Believers. We are what people would normally describe as a “cover” band but we like to refer to ourselves as more of a “tribute” band. Unlike most tribute bands around town that play one particular band/artist like The Fab (The Beatles), Unauthorized Ozzy (Ozzy Osborne) or Michael John (Billy Joel) we pay tribute to a particular genre along the lines of what Steel Panther (80’s Big Hair Metal) or Yellow Brick Road (Classic Rock) does. We pay tribute to Classic R&B and Soul music of the 60’s and 70’s a la Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Picket but what sets us apart from typical tribute bands is that we we choose to play the hits but we also do the b-sides (…you remember those, right?) and one-hit wonders (do you know who the band is that had the hit “Vehicle”? No fair Goggling it…).
Rev Bill has been around for over two decades, most of that time (all but the last 4 years) we were playing around L.A., including gigs at the Playboy Jazz Festival /Pasadena and several years as the opening headliner band for the long-running yearly summertime Lexus Jazz and Blues Festival in Valencia. When we relocated to Vegas four years ago we quickly got to work replacing the musicians that didn’t want to commute or relocate to Sin City with local players. We have lucked out with some major local talent — most notably are the amazing bassist Danny Buss (of Unauthorized Ozzy and Wild Heart fame) heading up the rhythm section and sax master James D’Arrigo (who has done everything from Ruth Brown to the Temptations among many other projects) heading up the horn section and believe it or not we still have one person that still commutes from Pasadena CA for rehearsals and gigs (say HI to vocalist Laura “Diva #2” Garcia).
With a band this size (ten players is a whole lot of people) we can’t just gig at just any local pub or club – the places with stages large enough are few and far between. We were fortunate enough to have played on the Freemont St stage, The Beach, The Club at the Cannery in North Las Vegas and Marilyn’s Lounge at the Eastside Cannery before the economy took a nosedive and bookings dried up. The talk in the industry is that entertainment budgets are starting to loosen up for the end of the year so we rehearse once a month and hope to be playing in front of an audience soon.
While Michael John and Unauthorized Ozzy are playing less and less around town, fellow cover/tribute bands The Fab, Steel Panther and Yellow Brick Road have all managed to keep their gigging plates relatively full. If you like The Beatles then I strongly suggest The Fab who have been together since 1995 and are currently playing Thursday nights at Marilyn’s Lounge at Eastside Cannery (from 8pm to 11pm, no cover charge, must be 21) and occasionally play the Station Casino circuit, with an upcoming show “Celebrating 13 years with the Stations Casinos in Las Vegas” on Friday, Aug. 21, at the Fiesta Rancho Casino (from 7pm to 11pm, no cover charge, 21 and up). If classic “Big Hair” metal bands are more your thing you should check out Steel Panther who play Fridays at Ovation at Green Valley Ranch Hotel/Casino (doors open at 11pm, must be 21) and Aliante Station’s Access Showroom on Saturdays (doors open at 10pm, no cover charge, must be 21). Fair warning: Steel Panther performs an adult-oriented show that is for mature audiences so if you are easily offended this show isn’t for you.
Yellow Brick Road, fronted by the amazing Brody Dolyniuk, is my favorite cover band currently gigging in Vegas. This amazingly talented group of musicians consists of Brody on lead vocals and several instruments, Brooke St. James on lead guitar/vocals, David St John on bass guitar/mandolin/vocals, Jonathan Gilcrest on various instruments and James Sloan on drums. Their song list is reminiscent of the rock stations I used to listen to as a kid back in L.A.: from AC/DC’s hits “dirty Deeds” and “Highway to Hell,” Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator” and “Sweet Emotion,” to songs that seems to come out of left field like Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” and Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and tons of Led Zepplin, Def Leppard, Journey, Queen, The Who and Van Halen to just name a few bands these guys pay tribute to. Linda Lou did a fantastic review/interview of Brody and Yellow Brick Road earlier this year on this site (click here for a link to that posting) and I have now posted some more photos of the band with a fantastic Q&A on our blogsite (click here for more on Yellow Brick Road by Photo Diva).
A few years back Brody tried to do a more production-filled mega rock show (appropriately titled RockShow!) which I saw at The Club inside The Cannery in North Las Vegas and I was truly amazed and delighted with both the concept as well as the level of musicianship and production value. I really hoped that it would find a home on the Strip where it belonged but, unfortunately with a full-on high-end rock show with high production value there’s also high costs to produce it and without someone with a thick wallet backing it up…well…let’s just say that RockShow! is on the back burner at this point in time. UPDATE: I just added some pics of RockShow! courtesy of Brody on the above-mentioned Q&A blog so you can see what I’m talking about!
Which leads me to a rock tribute show that recently premiered on the Strip but was short-lived: Rockstar: The Tribute. When I heard about this show opening up in Steve Wyrick’s 500-seat theater, located in the Miracle Mile Shops of Planet Hollywood, I couldn’t help but think about some of the lyrics from one of my favorite songs from a band named Bowling For Soup. The song’s title: 1985.(click here for links to the lyrics and a copy of the video). My 18 year old daughter says this should be my theme song. UGH! I think she may be right.
The concept behind this rock ‘n’ roll tribute show is a larger-than-life multi-act rock spectacular straight from the 70’s/80’s. The promotional materials I saw prior to its opening were exclaiming that there would be six separate acts featuring rock musicians from the legendary bands and encompassing the music from Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Heart, David Bowie, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Whitesnake, Ratt, Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Who, Foreigner, Queen, Van Halen, Pat Benatar, AC/DC, Journey, Bad Company, Guns N’ Roses and so on. This extravaganza is geared towards people like me: middle-aged rock fans who wax nostalgic and crave to go back and relive our crazy younger years…you know…when we had big hair and small waists. The twist that caught my eye is something I had always wished for when I was young and hot and so few of us got to actually experience: an Afterparty with the rock stars themselves in the Triq bar adjacent to the theater only open to those purchasing the Premium or VIP package. Sounds too good to be true, right?
In the interest of full disclosure, my before-mentioned daughter was hired as a promo girl for Rockstar, talking up the show and passing out discount coupons inside the Miracle Mile Shops as well as out in front of the Bellagio fountains. She was genuinely enthusiastic about the show and worked hard at getting passers-by excited about it too. She was encouraged to see the show and she would then know what she was promoting, so Erin and I made it a “Girl’s Night Out” on Saturday, July 11, the first week of its run. Normally I don’t like to go to a show in its first few weeks because I’d rather wait until the kinks and flaws are worked out but Erin was so excited that I arranged for photo access through the promoter and went along for the ride.
Good thing I didn’t wait. Due to some venue management issues (or so I’ve been told) the show closed after one week. I’m not so surprised as there were issues with the actual show and not just the venue/management. First off, RockStar: The Tribute is not exactly as described in the promos. If you look at the flyer you’d think that maybe Steven Tyler or Ozzy Osborne were in town and sitting in with some great backing band however the “rock musicians from legendary bands” are actually the members of the backup band itself, consisting this night of drummer Brent Fitz (most notably of Alice Cooper’s band), guitarist Kenny Kanowski (from Steel Heart, and writer of the song “We all die Young” from the movie ROCKSTAR), guitarist Michael Szuter (Paul Gilbert Band from Mr. Big) and Bassist Gerry Best (Dio and White Lion). WIth the exception of the first act’s lead singer, Chas West (Bonham/Lynch Mob/Tribe of Gypsies/3 Legged Dog), the remaining five acts consisted of very talented (but not the real deal) tribute singers. The singers this night were Toys In The Attic’s Jay Basinger (as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler), Dog n Butterfly’s Lizann Warner (as Heart’s Ann Wilson), Snakebite’s Michael Tirelli (as Whitesnake’s David Coverdale), Led Zepplica’s Rick Snider (as Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant), and Unauthorized Ozzy’s Peter Marrino (as Ozzy Ozbourne).
While musically the show was top notch, the production quality was sorely lacking for a Strip show charging similar ticket prices as Cirque shows . There was very little staging. (Where’s the wall to wall stack of Marshall Amps?). What little they did have were two stripper poles on raised platforms on both sides of the stage, complete with dancers. Even that was ill-used and brought no production value to the show. (No follow spots on the dancers??? What the H**L!?!?!?) There were few lights and only one follow spot being used on what seemed like an enormous space and that one spotlight was almost always pointed at the lead singer–even when the guitarist was ripping on a major solo he was in the dark. HELLO!?!?!? Put the light on the guitarist for the solo!
No sense beating an already dead show but it is my understanding from the producer of Rockstar:The Tribute that they are searching for a new venue to reopen in. My advice to the producer? call Brody asap and throw your money behind a rock tribute show that works (RockShow) or at least pump up the production value of Rockstar:The Tribute and cut the ticket prices in half.
OK, I need to go work on my cowbell solo now. See you next week.