Cover songs are a staple of any music scene, whether it's a rock band playing Kiss covers in a hole-in-the-wall dive bar or a symphony playing the works of Beethoven in a concert hall. The thing that differentiates the performance is the amount of effort and energy the artists put into their interpretations. Both were in abundance Friday night when the locals came out to pose as their favorite stars.
Aquitaine started the evening performing as Oasis. Musically, the group was tight, sounding as if they'd just stepped off a plane from Manchester, UK. Will Hildebrandt was a perfect copy of Liam Gallagher, right down to the dark shades and insults thrown out to the other artists playing that night. Dave Collett looked more like Roy Orbison than Noel Gallagher with his wig on, but didn't miss a step with his guitar parts. Aquitaine put on a solid set and laid a great foundation for the rest of the evening.
Next to take the stage was Animal Empty, who performed as PJ Harvey. This is one of those sets where I was not very familiar with the source material, but after having heard the renditions on stage will be digging into the back catalog as soon as I am able. Ali Ruby had Polly Jean's vocals down to the note, exuding the same sultry growl for which Ms. Harvey is known. The rest of the band was on point, sounding as if they had written the material themselves instead of learning someone else's tunes note for note. Mike Craft's vocals on "Rid of Me" were especially fine, his falsetto cutting through the air and earning him a much deserved roar from the crowd.
The third act of the evening was Humdrum who decided to take on the varied works of Beck. This was the set that I had concerns about, mainly because Beck has a wide array of musical styles, and even in his basic works there is a lot going on during the songs. Humdrum managed to pull it off without breaking a sweat. They mostly stuck to songs from "Odelay!" forward, with a short trip back to Mellow Gold's "Loser" to end the set. Their version of "Debra" from 1999's "Midnite Vultures" sounded like they were playing the album, their imitation of Beck imitating Prince could not have been any closer without Beck himself on the stage. This was my favorite set of the night by far.
The rules of AUCW allow for one of two kinds of covers: An exact replica of the original material or a reworking of the original material, but not both. Volcanoes took the second route and performed the songs of the Killers as if they were a punk band. I am not a fan of the Killers, but I found the reworked songs more to my liking. The set was extremely loud, as punk should be. However, the overall sound was muddy, and at times the keyboards and vocals were unrecognizable. The band was having a damn good time up there and really put effort into its performance. One comment I heard from the crowd was "Guantanamo Bay could use these guys." While I don't know if that was meant to be a jab or praise, I think these patriots deserve a salute.
LucaBrasi was the last act to take the stage, performing as U2 to close the evening. I had never seen LucaBrasi before, but I can say this: They made me enjoy a set of U2 songs, which I would not normally listen to if given the choice. The band WAS U2, there was no covering going on here. The set was almost a note-for-note copy of some classic songs that sounded complete -- and completely amazing. I think Jerry Jost must have bought every effects pedal in the bi-state area to replicate the Edge's sound. The only thing that was missing from Matt McInerney's vocals was the overbearing smugness that Bono exudes, and I think that's what made the difference for me. They were doing what McInerney called "mullet-era Bono" tunes that focused on the older, more rock sound of U2. They ended the set with a fantastic version of "Angel of Harlem" with Matt Kwiatkowski of the Urge and Aaron Chandler of Funky Butt Brass Band adding some polished brass to an already gleaming performance.
These five bands have set a high bar for the second group to reach. It will be interesting to see how Saturday turns out. Given the amount of work these acts put into these sets, at the very least night two will be full of fine performances and some laughs with some of the best musicians in the St. Louis area.