Not Dead Yet
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Not Dead Yet

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The best kept secret in music


"It's Not Impersonation When Its a Tribute"

The music business changes faster than most people care to keep up with. Every new band is trying to be bigger, faster and more cutting edge than what came before. Most people however feel a void left by the artists that aren’t touring, aren’t alive or just plain aren’t affordable.

Enter the tribute band.

Not to be mistaken with the cover band. The tribute band devotes its entire repertoire of songs to one band - often memorizing every note, lyric and nuance from that band's catalog. A cover band, for clarity's sake, devotes its set lists to a myriad of bands, genres, even eras.

It makes one think about music, art and the old "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" line. Is there a boundary crossed when the bands playing the music weren't responsible for bringing that music to fruition? And what happens when imitation leaves the realm of flattery and enters the land of mistaken identity?

"We're not the band, we know that, and we don't want to be" says Michael Koren of Not Dead Yet, a Westchester tribute band devoted to The Grateful Dead.

"Not to be pun-ny, but we don't want to put our own spin on it, we want to be true to the music. We don't bastardize the songs and we don't try to mimic, and every show we do is different.

"We have a lot of material. The music is already written, so the hard part is done," says Koren, of Goldens Bridge. "Three of us are pretty serious Deadheads, so the interest in staying true is there. Plus, there is no shortage of material, because the band covered everything from Dylan to the Stones. The people that come to our shows are half Deadheads and half just like music. But whatever reason, they leave saying that they didn't know the Dead did that. The band did so much great music that many people have never been exposed to."

Not Dead Yet is one of many tribute bands whose following has spread through word of mouth in and around the Lower Hudson Valley (see Page 7 for show dates and times). Offstage, the members of the band have regular jobs, lead regular lives and generally leave the music they perform - along with the world that comes with it - onstage. Besides tie-dyed T-shirts, Not Dead Yet doesn't try to impersonate The Grateful Dead.

Some tribute bands are devoted to encompassing as much of their idols as possible. The guitarist in Strawberry Fields - one of many Beatles tribute bands - insists on being referred to as "John" when speaking about the music.

That practice is the flip side of Not Dead Yet's performance standards. In the middle of that spectrum are the tribute bands that assume the personas of their famous counterparts, but leave their characters onstage.

"We try to embody the characters, but we look at it pretty much like an acting job," says Joe Cumia, guitarist (and brother to Anthony Cumia, part of the shock-jock duo Opie and Anthony) for 2U, which is devoted to the music of supergroup U2. The band is currently wrapping up a monthlong stint on the Las Vegas Strip before heading back East to the members' native New Jersey.

"It's almost bizarre," Cumia said. "As big music fans and as big U2 fanatics, we want to be as respectful of the music as we can. But then we see these Elvis impersonators who dress like him and talk like him all the time, not some of the time, and I can't help thinking it's a serious personality glitch. An identity crisis, if you will."

Brian Desveaux, lead singer for 2U (who jokingly refers to himself as "Boneaux") agrees with his 2U bandmate: "Like Joe said, this is just really what came easy to us because we actually love the music."

"We don't actually have a desire to be U2, but we do want to put on a show," Desveaux said. "When I first joined the band, I had to shave my sideburns and change some of my physical appearance. But honestly, I don't look a thing like Bono. Not like some of these lead singers that are dead ringers. But then I donned those recognizable Bono shades and the cowboy hat, and I slick back my hair and I become the character.

"It's a cool transition. I do certain things and put the costume on, and the audience reacts with this feeling of disbelief. This band is our way of making a living in the music business. But then we get offstage and mess ourselves up and go back to being ourselves. We leave the ego to Bono and the boys."

What is most interesting about these bands is their relationship with the fans. Name a successful band and you'll find a built-in audience ready and excited to check out a tribute band's show.

"I'm all for original music, I love singer-songwriters," says Not Dead Yet's Koren, who wields a Jerry Garcia- replica axe. "But the truth is, when people work all week and go out on the weekends, they kind of want to hear what they know. ... They want to have a good time. The tribute bands kind of do that. People sing along and dance and have a great time.

"I think that's why the tribute scene is so big right now. All the great music of rock ' - Westchester Journal News Entertainment Section (Cover Story)


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