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culture

A Tribute to Toronto’s Tribute Bands

Four Toronto bands are building a following with tunes that are none of their own.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Toronto has a big bunch of sweeties taking its stages. But leave the Rolling Stones and Beatles covers for the Momma’s and the Poppa’s—this is a whole new generation of tribute bands that are young, cool, and eager to tap into today’s soft spot for nostalgia.

Four bands in Toronto a making a name for themselves, even though it’s a name we’ve all heard before. Here are some of the city’s hottest tribute bands.

Sheezer

Members: Dana Snell (Drums), Laura Barrett (Bass), Alysha Haugen (Lead Guitar), Magali Meagher (Rhythm Guitar), Robin Hatch (Keys/Guitar/Harmonica—and also a Torontoist music reviewer)

Tribute to: Weezer (Pinkerton and The Blue Album only)


Torontoist: How did you get together?
Dana Snell: Laura and I were driving back from a show, and we decided to listen to The Blue Album. It’s just that kind of album that’s great for a long drive, you know. All killer, no filler. I was playing with Gentleman Reg and The Bicycles at the time, which are way more pop than rock, and we thought how fun it would be to just rock out. But the band’s name was key in the decision making, once we thought of that we were like “We have to do this.” So Laura taught herself how to play bass. We had our friend Lysh come over and practice, and she was secretly super good at the guitar. Our friend Magali was rhythm guitar and vocals. And our friend Robin was a longtime superfan of Weezer and played keys to round out the band and ended up singing a bunch of songs.

Why Weezer?
I think Weezer’s a really unique band—a lot of imitators, no duplicators. They always go places you don’t expect. And their music really stands up, we were fans already. But our decision to only play Pinkerton and The Blue Album—we thought we were just going to deliver real nostalgic Weezer by focusing on those two albums.

Who’s your audience?
A big mix of Weezer fans and some people who don’t even like Weezer, that I really don’t understand. They just like our band. And then there’s people who’ve heard we’re a fun live band.

What’s your favourite moment from a show you’ve played?
We played a Halloween show at Lee’s and one guy came as Hurley and looked exactly like him. We got him to do the talking part in “The Sweater Song,” but he started singing it instead of talking it. We still joke about that.

Describe a Sheezer show in 10 words or less.
Nostalgic good times.

What’s up next?
We’re doing a mini tour, a 10-day jaunt in Eastern Canada getting us to the Lawnya Vawnya music festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland.


Daft Punk Tribute

Members: Joanna Mohammed (Vocals), Ryan Spratt (Vocoder/Lasers), Nevin Dunn (Tenor Sax/Vocals), James Ervin (Trumpet/EWI), Matt Giffin (Keyboard/Vocals), Mike Eckert (Guitar), Michael Carrillo (Drums), Liam Morin (Bass)

Tribute: Daft Punk


Torontoist: How did you get together?
Ryan Spratt: We all went to Humber College for music. When I was in second year, I decided to buy a vocoder, I wanted to buy something unpractical that made cool sounds. Mike [Eckert] had the idea to jam to some Daft Punk tunes, I don’t know where he got that idea. We just liked to play whatever. We learned “One More Time,” it was pretty easy. We decided to get keyboards and trumpets and drums and everything, and it all came together in a rehearsal room at Humber one day. That was basically how it started.

I was always skeptical, but Eckert was basically “Shut up and play your laser noises.” Five or six years later we’re still doing it. Our first show ever was November 23, 2007 at Clinton’s Tavern. It was for laughs, “Let’s do this one show.”

Why Daft Punk?
It was never anyone’s intention to be in a tribute band. I certainly wasn’t all about Daft Punk back in the day. Basically it excited me to attempt to do live electronic music. We duplicate their music with nine people. There’s also so much to work with, they have a lot of material, they have a lot of iconic images, their sound is very unique. And tons of hit songs, that’s the key. Plus it’s fun to hang out with my friends and play these super fun songs, and dance around. Sounds like a good time to me.

Who’s your audience?
Our target demo is probably the 19 to 29 crowd. But the thing is that Daft Punk needs to put out a new record. They might know the Tron soundtrack, they might know “One More Time” and some other ones, but that came out in 2001. That’s already kind of dated. I feel like electronic music fans would be more into the newest DJ shit. Our diehards are people who really like live bands, R&B bands, rock bands. Maybe rock fans who kind of like electronic music, like myself. In general, I tend to go see bands rather than DJs. That, and people who just want to party.

What’s your favourite moment from a show you’ve played?
Probably the first time we played The Paragon in Halifax. It was really ridiculous, it was our third show ever, for like 600 people. You can imagine our shock stepping out on to that stage. I remember they flashed up the house lights and saw so many fucking people, that really freaked me out, I messed up the next two bars.

I’m working with a really good group of friends, so some of my favourite moments happen off stage. We’ve grown very close friends, we call ourselves the DPT family.

Describe a Daft Punk Tribute show in 10 words or less.
Super exciting live band playing Daft Punk laser noises. Pow!

What’s next?
We’ve got a show on May 19 at Lee’s Palace.


Wannabe

Members: Anika Johnson (Sporty), Suzy Wilde (Posh), Janee Olivia (Scary), Catharine Merriam (Baby), Barbara Johnston (Ginger)

Tribute: The Spice Girls


Torontoist: How did you get together?
Anika Johnson: Three of the girls (myself, Ginger, and Posh) played together in a folk band for years. We used to have a weekly gig at the Drake, and one night landed on Halloween and we dressed up like The Spice Girls. It went over really well. That seeded the idea in us to start a Spice Girls tribute. Our friends had started the Daft Punk Tribute, which got us thinking about the idea of tribute bands.

Why The Spice Girls?
It was such a phenomenon, everyone had their Spice, dressed up like them, did the dances, sang along. No band has been such a big deal since then, at least for girls in their mid-20′s right now. It lends itself to the theatricality of a tribute show. We have five characters we can bring to the stage, it was always more about the characters than it was about anything else. They’re also very sweet, there’s an innocence in them and a positivity that’s disappeared, and we were really attracted to that.

And the more time we spend on it, the more we realize how well-crafted the songs are.
It’s better than you think.

Who’s your audience?
Girls in their 20s mostly, and gay guys. It has grown to include other demographics too. The band is fantastic so people come out just to hear good playing, but our major demo is girls our age and gay guys. Which is a fun crowd to play to.

What’s your favourite moment from a show you’ve played?
When we did our first show at the El Mocambo, there was a garage door that rolled up to reveal us. We weren’t prepared for the excitement and when we got a first glimpse at the crowd cheering for us, it was one of the most exciting moments of my life. It was so surreal. They treat us like we’re the real Spice Girls—they’re singing along, and reaching up to touch us, and you never get that! It’s the realization of a childhood dream. I feel really lucky to get to do this, it’s so cool.

Describe a Wannabe show in 10 words or less.
Not just a concert, it’s the party of the century.

What’s up next?
Hopefully in the future there will be a double bill with the Daft Punk Tribute, but no concrete plans yet. We’re playing the Palais Royale on April 27 on a private hire-out for a convention or something. Then we’re planning next steps, definitely something for Pride but there’s nothing booked right now.


Vag Halen

Members: Aimee Bessada (Lead Guitar), Steph Marko (Backing Vocals/Keyboard), Susan Gale (Drums), Dani Nash (Rhythm guitar), Katie Ritchie (Bass), Vanessa Dunn (Vocals)

Tribute: Heavy metal cock-rock


Torontoist: How did you get together?
Vanessa Dunn: It was originally Katie’s and my idea. The original idea was to make a Fleetwood Mac cover band called Fleetwood Love, so we got all together and it sounded kind of bland. It just didn’t have anything to say. I said I would love to do covers of Van Halen, then it became a bigger discussion. “Lets do all cock-rock songs, turn them on their head, and do them with all girls.” That’s the music I grew up with, I have two older brothers. I legitimately love it, but have a semi-complicated relationship with it. Women and their role in that world was sort of one-dimensional and semi-insulting. But it ended up being really fun, packed a huge punch.

Why heavy metal rock?
I wanted to be a feminist. A lot of the bands in that style were over-the-top male bands at the time. Queen, even Guns N Roses, to me is really over the top. Out of interest, I wanted to see if the energy is different, if it’s interesting to see females doing these hard-rocking, nasty lyrics. It’s an interesting take.

Who’s your audience?
We’ve only had three shows so far, but we have a good mix actually. The first show we played was at Steers & Queers, so a fairly queer crowd. But generally we’re straight down the middle with straights and gays too. We happen to be all queer as a band, but I don’t know if that matters much.

What’s your favourite moment from a show you’ve played?
We were finishing a show, and started the opening riff of “Dirty Deeds,” our closing song. It’s immediately a crowd-pleaser. I started singing these lyrics that are hilarious and naughty, it was this overwhelming moment and everyone was nailing it and pumping their fists to this hard-hitting song. As a singer, I get to be sort of that video vixen from the music videos I used to see growing up. It felt really fucking rad. And it felt really contemporary, not dated at all. Not nostalgic. [Music critic] Carl Wilson said “Every single one of the songs you did I hate, but I loved them because it was you guys.” It feels fresh, it feels new. I just thought “This is it, we nailed it.”

Describe a Vag Halen show in 10 words or less.
If you don’t have your shirt off, we haven’t done our job.

What’s up next?
Katie and I just got back from a long trip, but we’re back into rehearsing and booking gigs in the spring.

Comments

  • Jerfleing

    Ok you know absolutely NOTHING about the Tribute bands in Toronto if you think these are the top 4. I know almost all the major tributes in Toronto and these guys have never even played in any of the top bars in the are infact I have never heard of them before. Don’t post lies

  • Mo
  • Jesshilan2

    Good lord, simmer down, Jerfleing. I don’t remember the headline BEST TRIBUTE BANDS THAT HAVE PLAYED EVERY FUCKING BIG VENUE EVER MADE IN TORONTO. It reads: “Four Toronto bands are building a following with tunes that are none of their own.”

    Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “everything is going to be okay”.

  • Jerfleing

    And below that…hmmm what did it say??? “Here are some of the city’s hottest
    tribute bands.” Take a breath and open your mouth and swallow some salty man juice..then you’ll be ok!

  • Jesshilan2

    Oh sweetheart, re-read my comment. Focus, spell out the words and have a dictionary close by. Relying on cum joke as rebuttal is so sad. Such a threatened little boy.