Should Tribute Bands Be Trusted? FRAGILE says YES!
There is a rise in bands that do more than simply "cover" tunes. A new
genre is emerging among the ranks of musicians who are wearied by the
general direction of popular music, and are more than merely inspired by
the artists who helped mold the progressive movement of the early
seventies. These tribute bands are taking on the heavy weights in Classic
Rock making a name for themselves often with the same tenacity as the
original band and bringing it home to smaller venues and to newer,
younger audiences. What is attracting these audiences to these tribute
bands remains unclear unless one remembers what the original attraction
was to the original band. It was the music. It is hard for a new band to
promote themselves as a TRIBUTE BAND and harder still for them to
replicate the exact sound of the original band. They are setting
themselves up for intense scrutiny especially among the legions of fans
that came of age listening to the original masters. However, there are
some notable exceptions, and topping the list is FRAGILE, the UK based
YES tribute band.
I must admit that I am a skeptic. I grew up listening to some of the
premier bands covering the masters of Rock and Roll. They did so to
develop their own distinctive style and broaden the base of their
listening audience. THE BEATLES covered CHUCK BERRY and YES covered THE
BEATLES. However, these respective bands did so to enhance the
credibility of their own creations and to create propriety to their own
music. They were never considered tribute bands. The subsequent years has
shown us that both Berry and The Beatles still remain the most covered
artists in rock history, but who covers YES? The latter is a band in all
its incarnations that took a potpourri of artists and eclectic sounds and
produced music that was the quintessence of progressive rock. They are
also the band least likely to be covered at some juke joint on a Saturday
night. I predict that YES acts will never replace the legion of ELVIS
impersonators that endlessly parade though the lounges of least
resistance. YES music is more tuned to the mind. FRAGILE is the reminder.
FRAGILEs first CD, "Live at the Half Moon" is an accolade to the AOR
(album oriented rock) sound that was the succession in music during YES
ascent on the airwaves. What is alluring about FRAGILE is their facility
to snare the YES facade and give it a familiar face. FRAGILE has the
talent to pull off YES celebrity without compromise and a band who has
enough confidence in their own ability as artists to do their first
recording in a LIVE venue. This is not an easy task even for the most
seasoned veterans, and few, if any, can persuade a loyal YES fan base
that any ensemble can replicate the renderings of YES live unless it is
YES themselves. YES fans take note! FRAGILE is closer to the cutting edge
of YES than YES has been in awhile!
"Live at the Half Moon" is a platter full of YES material performed by a
troupe that could have easily called themselves, "The Big Re-Generators."
I was immediately struck by FRAGILEs individuality as performers and
their intuitions that YES covers are better served outside the studio. A
casual YES fan would be challenged to identify FRAGILE as a tribute band
since their style is so like their mentors. The paradox is that FRAGILE
reminds their audience that while YES gave the rock music world a higher
plateau to achieve, FRAGILE can stand at peace in the face of YES fans
with a blossoming fan base of their own. "Live at the Half Moon" is the
best of both realms and FRAGILE may be the visionaries to whom YES passes
their keys to ascension.
Recorded June 8, 2000 in London, "Live at the Half Moon" is a jubilant
interpretation of the epitome of the YES legacy. The obvious trick for
anyone attempting to emulate the YES sound is to avoid the ambush of YES
fans that may lynch you if your singer falls short of capturing the
lilting quality of JON ANDERSONs voice. FRAGILEs vocalist, STEVE
CARNEY, does not have to worry. His neck is safe. He is a brilliant
singer whose ardent vocal performance never strained under the pressure
even when doing the last song in the set, a nearly ten minute version of
"Starship Trooper". Steve is a befitting benefactor to Andersons tenure
as YES most recognizable voice.
On the other hand, what about the other members of FRAGILE, and how do
they compare to their counterparts in the YES genealogy? It could be
musical genocide to make those comparisons, but the FRAGILE musicians are
enormously endowed with artistic agility and collectively they are
cementing YES heritage in rock history and paving their own path for
future artists who will never see YES or FRAGILE perform live. Many kudos
need to be given to these men, JON BASTABLE (bass), MITCH HARWOOD (drums
and vocals), TOM DAWE (guitar and vocals), ROBERT ILLES (lead guitar),
and GONZALO CARRERAS (keyboards). They are massively gifted musicians.
"Live at the Half Moon" proves that YES can be covered and that there are
artists with enough ability to do it! It just takes a collective talent
who possesses a collective conscious and is empowered by the music. YES
sired it. FRAGILE nursed it. "Live at the Half Moon" nailed it!
Should tribute bands be trusted? The jury will be out on that one as long
as there are ears to listen. I suppose it depends on what one trusts them
to do. They will never replace the originals, but they should be trusted
to compliment the artists who inspired them by being as true to the music
as possible. (The word "tribute" does mean, "to honor".) I will say this.
If tribute bands are to remain a viable presence in the music industry
and not be regulated to the back rooms of bars or billed as nostalgia
acts, then FRAGILE could well prove to be the standard for most other
tribute bands to aspire to. They are true to the time and the word of YES
music, and prove, without dispute, that "It Can Happen"!
© April 12, 2001
All Rights Reserved
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