Planet Clair 

Documentaries about offbeat rock 'n' roll subcultures are totally fresh, which is why when Heavy Metal Parking Lot made the rounds a few years back, Planet Clair couldnt wait to see it.

For those of you who somehow missed this homage to preconcert parking-lot tailgaters, it was filmed at a Judas Priest show and filled with heschers on acid and the women who love them. And it sucked. It had, like, two good laughs in it. Maybe it's because Clair's from the Midwest and went to high school with them types every day -- people who say things like" Dokken was rockin' but Krokus was bogus!" after a big show at the fairgrounds -- but the video was lame-er-oo, buddy. However, that ain't to say that redneck heavy metal folks ain't funny, 'cause they damn sure are, traipsing through life like that playful scamp Eddie from Iron Maiden...

Well, finally someone has made a humorous and interesting documentary about another rock subculture that has its roots in the metal scene: tribute bands. Detroit's Russ Forster is coming to the Port Lite on Friday to show Tributary, his film on the subject. Expect to see tweakers, dumbasses, out-of-shape Motley Crue cover bands.

"At first," says Forster, "I wasn't really overwhelmed with the idea [of making the doc]; I thought it seemed like a very small scene that basically was part of the heavy-metal clubs, and I just didnsup1t think there was much there to get. Then I ended up going to a tribute show at an outdoor-fair kinda thing in Chicago, and I was completely overwhelmed. It was the most bizarre white-trash experience I'd had in years. The bands were befuddling, the crowd was just appalling -- but in a curious way. There were mother/daughter tag teams going after the same guys. I thought, 'Hmm, there might be something here.'"

"That's probably the funniest thing about tribute bands," says Clair. "They actually get laid! 'Take me, Ian Anderson!'"

"Yeah," laughs Forster, "I think that tribute groupies, their standards aren't quite as high, the illusions aren't quite as high. For them, it's more seeing a cute guy onstage and going home with him, almost as if you were at a party and saw a cute guy and went home with him. I don't think they are thinking, 'Wow, it could be Steven Tyler!' There's a certain amount of down-to-earthness in the tribute scene, though I would argue that there is role-playing on all sides. The bands are playing a role, of sorts, and the audience is playing a role, of sorts. You can get drawn into the idea that this is just about as close as you can get to seeing the original band in its heyday in a huge arena, except it's not a huge arena and it's not the band, and you are really part of that audience."

In Tributary, Forster takes a fairly in-depth approach to his study, breaking the bands down into several categories according to their dedication and professionalism. Some bands are really married to being the perfect Rolling Stones tribute group while some of them just want to play Guided by Voices songs for an appreciative crowd.

"I think different bands have different mindsets," he says. "You can argue the categories, but there are certain kinds of tribute bands that are less concerned about being accurate and dressing up, and are more concerned with creating a spirit or a feeling, or going back to the high school days or whatever. I called those 'social bands.' I put them in contrast with 'working bands,' who are going to be more concerned with being exact and having the costume and everything, because it's a job for them. They want audiences to be impressed with the accuracy that they've worked out."

Between bands there can be fierce competition, especially if they are doing the same shtick. Take San Francisco's AC/DShe vs. the Pacific Northwest's Hell's Belles, two all-female AC/DC cover bands. Rumor has it that members of AC/DShe wrote a letter to a club in SF asking them not to book Hell's Belles; this town ain't big enough for two all-girl Bon Scott tributes. Is this merely a chick thing? Or something far more insidious?

"It's not just a chick thing." Says Forster. "I been hearing stories about how the Beatles bands in LA are super cutthroat. There was this one band that would put out the information about their dates two days before they were gonna play, because a rival Beatles tribute was finding out about the shows then calling up the clubs and saying, 'We're better than those guys, and we'll play for less,' and stealing their shows. It's not just a chick thing. It gets pretty nasty among certain groups. But I'd say that, overall, the tribute scene is a lot more just fun and friendly." See for yourself on Friday .


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