Doubleheader shows rock SLO town

March 19, 2011


There are two schools of thought about musical tributes: some think they are glorified karaoke with no original creativity. Others believe they pay homage to lost icons by bringing them back to life.

After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery.

Last weekend in San Luis Obispo, I saw a pair of these so-called tribute concerts: one that was clearly billed as such, the other less obvious.

“One Night of Queen” at the PAC sought to bring back 1970’s classic rock glory of the legendary band that was fronted by the even more legendary Freddie Mercury. How often in these shows or in non-fiction movies do you find someone who can recreate the look, sound and moves of a particular star?  A tribute trifecta if you will.

Scottish-born Gary Mullen has done it, at least for two hours every night, transforming himself completely as Mercury in the nationally-touring extravaganza and carrying the load from beginning to end. Queen was actually a strong four-piece band with uber-talented musicians Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor supporting their charismatic frontman.

However, unlike the original group and other tribute shows like the Pink Floyd Experience, which played the PAC in 2009, “One Night of Queen” was all about one wild and crazy guy. If you didn’t know their history, you would have sat there thinking Mercury was a singer/showman a la Neil Diamond with a strong backup band.

But after stirring numbers like” Tie Your Mother Down,” “Another One Bites,” “The Dust” and “Fat-Bottomed Girls,” no one really cared. And guitarist Davie Brocket crunchy guitar wail on “We WIll Rock You” brought it all home. It’s rare that Cohan Center patrons get up on their feet and it took some persuading from Mullen to make it happen.  Rock concerts are best when everyone is standing, grooving and anticipating the next “moment.” While the acoustics and elegant ambiance of the Cal Poly venue are excellent, its shows are sometimes stilted, lacking that memorable spontaneity.

The 2010-11 year has proven to be outstanding for Cal Poly Arts, the artistic talent that graced the Spanos Theatre and the Cohan Center was as strong as ever. You gotta give kudos to Steve Lerian for bringing a variety of shows that should have everyone smiling. With Mose Allison, Crosby Nash and the Moody Blues still to come, how can you disagree.

Across town later that night, another venerable central coast venue was hosting a venerable classic southern rock band. How often do you have two big shows on the same night in sleepy SLO town?

Molly Hatchet, probably more at home on the range at the Pozo Saloon, strutted their stuff for the hard-cores in a sharp 90-minute set at the newly-remodeled and renamed SLO Brew. Turns out they were just another tribute band, albeit a well-versed version of the original.

The only founding band member left, rhythm guitarist Dave Hlubek was ill and not playing on their west coast tour. Their lead gitarist Bobby Ingram has been with the “new” Molly Hatchet since 1985, the longest of anyone on stage. Not that impressive when you consider their heyday was 1978 to 1980 when their first three albums were released.

Still, I doubt the T-shirted minions in the crowd even knew and if they did — a few beers no doubt quelled any complaints. But after the requisite guitar/drum solos and a rousing rendition of greatest rock cliche song ever, “Freebird,” the masses were giddy. As many times as I’ve heard it on the radio, this was only the second time ever in concert, so I got that going for me.

Overall, you really can’t beat SLO Brew for its intimacy and interaction with the performers.  You can tell that bands like playing there and the audience is equally satisfied. We just need to get better of the former and more of the latter.

Still, it wasn’t a bad way to end a Sunday night that would normally be spent on the couch wishing there was one more football game the next day.

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Molly Hatchet covered Skynyard? That’s either the most awesome or the most pathetic thing I’ve heard lately.

Of course, as this version of Hatchet is essentially a cover band, I guess it’s no surprise.