Seeing a cover band in a loud bar is one of life’s little joys. It’s like watching a train wreck that takes 2 or 3 hours to happen and is scored by indecipherable versions of classic songs – all of which is set to a bed of the ambient sound of drunk dudes getting shot down by drunk girls (which, by the way, sounds exactly like every Pat Benatar song, just with more slurring).
But when you’ve been to enough bars with live bands playing songs that would make the original artists sue everyone involved – from the band to the people drinking their sorrows away – you start to see some patterns arise. After awhile, the experience can be telegraphed to the point that, if you wanted, you could make a bullet point list of every event that will occur and check off every moment as it happens. Why these things always seem to happen is a mystery up there with the Bermuda Triangle and the popularity of CBS’s primetime lineup. Perhaps it’s just chance, or maybe if you plug a cover band, middle-aged drunk people, and a faux-Irish setting in to some kind of complex mathematical equation the result will equal these four things.
The Dancing Drunkards
For the first few songs the area in front of the stage will look as though someone farted and created an invisible barrier of avoidance that no mortal man or woman dare pass lest they be the first to officially declare that they have smelled it and, therefore, are the malodorous scum that dealt it.
The only people that seem to enter this forbidden zone are the ones pounding booze in amounts that could be used to disinfect the floors of an orgy that turned in to a crime scene after an argument about whose testicles those were. Even with the cautious, thoughtful stepping, the drink carrier is moving at a pace that other drink carriers consider “break neck” – and all in an attempt to avoid the dance floor at all costs.
Once all of those drinks are imbibed, and after four more sessions of cautious tip-toeing, that dance floor, that tiny 12X4 plot of real estate in front of the band, becomes occupied by a cluster of the bar’s drunkest and horniest. If you were viewing this scene from a helicopter you would be forgiven for mistaking this incohesive body of movement for mitochondria looking for some sugar to synthesize. The wailing arms and gyrating hips, the closed-eye head sways and the attempted butt squeezes – all of these are hallmarks of the Dance of the Drunkards. There is no rhyme or reason for the moment. Hell, it doesn’t even look like they’re all dancing to the same song, as one person seems to have a Hippie spaghetti dance thing going while another is performing a combination of the Macarena and Elaine’s Little Kicks from Seinfeld. But they all share one thing in common – none of them will remember this tomorrow.
The Progressive Decline In Quality
As a rule, most cover bands aren’t of the highest caliber in terms of talent. There’s a reason this gang of 40-somethings are playing A-Ha tunes in Dan’s Pub at 2 A.M. So, from the moment a cover band takes the stage you mentally prepare yourself for perplexing version of the songs you’ve been hearing your entire life. At certain points throughout the show you may find yourself asking, “Hey, I didn’t know Johnny Cash’s ‘Walk The Line’ had a part in it where the drummer just kind of stopped doing his job. Is this a remix?”
Cut to 2 hours later and the band has downed so many free drinks that they could be mummified at this point, and the low quality we saw and heard earlier has vanished. In its place is what some music experts call “sound” and what others call “like the Hindenburg disaster, but with a keytar.” Getting an already bad band drunk, while fun at first, is an exercise in diminishing returns, as seeing them forget what music is supposed to sound like can be an experience that leaves you feeling dirty, like trying to ask a prostitute for your money back after a terrible and lazy lay. The more you put in (alcohol) the less you get out (talent).
Taking Requests (That They Can’t Play)
By the time the band has drank itself in to a musical coma, they will stop playing a song for a moment as they change guitars and set up mics and such. Inevitably, when this occurs someone will yell out a song they wish to hear, and they, for some reason, want to hear this band’s rendition of the song. This person is also the one that ends up in a cop car at 6 A.M. wearing a poncho while superglued to a Doberman.
The lead singer says “You wanna hear [insert song here]?!” The crowd (particularly the person that requested the song) replies with “Ahhh” and “Bhu-Grrrrrr” and whatever else their whisky sour-soaked brains think are words. So the band, at the behest of the crowd, plays the tune. And it is awful. And no one seems to be surprised by this.
Either the awfulness was expected, like the crowd collectively decided to play a cruel joke on the band, mocking them for even thinking they could entertain this group of wannabe Roman emperors with a ridiculous Rihanna cover; or the sheer awfulness of the song will enter their ears all dissembled and muddled and their alcohol-sloshed brains will rearrange and un-muddle the song and they will hear it in the exact manner it was meant to be heard, which, to a sober ear, is an incomprehensible feat. It is only then that you realize that the likes and dislikes of a drunk are not to be trusted.
A Moment of Depression
As the show winds down and the alcohol has been thoroughly absorbed into the bloodstream, the band, specifically the lead singer, begins to become wistful for the set that is nearly over, that feels like it had only just begun, that they are too drunk to remember the beginning of. A common rule at wedding receptions is to quickly remove the microphone from the hand of the drunk person talking about how Mike and Sandy are, like, totally right for each other — as long as Sandy keeps it in her pants, the whore. This rule should also be applied to cover bands.
By the time the show ends the lead singer will mistake a simple and elegant “Thank you, good night!” for “You know, things ain’t been too hot for the members of Hot Rod Sally. Yep, one might say our lives are kinda in the shitter.” It isn’t always that blatantly morose, of course, but there’s always a hint of sadness wedged in-between their last few happy tunes. If you’re not so drunk that you’re face down in a urinal puking up food you’re sure you didn’t eat, then this is the moment of the show to pay the most attention to. This is the moment where the inherent sadness about not “making it” comes to the forefront.
It could be something as simple as, “It’s been great playing for you guys tonight…even though most of you won’t remember us…” or it can be as obvious as “My wife left me, and – uh, things have been…lonely for me. Anyway, who here’s a fan of Kajagoogoo? Anyone? Anyone?”
As they wrap up their set and load their equipment back in to the van, this is the best time to take advantage of last call and just start pounding the drinks, because only alcohol will thoroughly drown the sorrows that the band has transferred over to you. It’s also around this time that heading over to a late night karaoke bar seems like a really good idea, assuming they have enough of those morose Morrissey songs on hand so that you may wallow in another band’s depression.