Despite what anyone might say, being in a rock band is mostly about the glory. That is not to say glory is a pejorative, but rather bands constantly seek the approval of an audience that only being on stage and playing hit material can provide. Where then, do cover bands come in? By definition, their success is based upon how well they interpret and perform other people’s work. However, as artists like Rod Stewart (in his early years) demonstrate, the reinterpretation of classics can create something wholly new and interesting.
Perhaps the best cover bands are those that deal with the music of groups whose songs tend to be a bit off-kilter, driven by a looser song structure and reliance on technical wizardry rather than a defined medium. Both Phish and Pink Floyd are certainly that kind of band. Their songs allow the interpretation that can free the musician from a rote cover version, a trait that Strange Design (a Phish cover act) and Eclipse (a Pink Floyd cover act) both exploit.
Dave Weissman of Strange Design finds their music fits the aforementioned characteristics. “The nature of Phish’s music leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation,” he said. Weissman said his ethos fits in with the intentions of the band. “That being said, when we get to the improvisational parts of songs, we allow ourselves to be in the moment and express how we are feeling, which is more in the spirit of Phish than if we were to try too hard to play everything note for note.”
Bonnie Lavender, keyboard player and vocalist for Eclipse, discovered that Richard Wright’s keyboard parts hit her emotionally when she played Pink Floyd songs with her father. “We shared our techniques and truly had the most beautiful bonding experience playing Pink Floyd together,” said Lavender. “My father had never listened to Rick Wright before, and on that day gained an appreciation for Wright’s melodies. I can’t tell you what this experience has done for my heart and my soul.” The effect is still felt today.
Even with the freedom of the music, there is still the fact that listeners are there to hear songs the band did not create. However, both bands do not fear that point is detrimental to their work. Weissman, again, sees it in Phish’s music. “The majority of Phish fans are very impressive music lovers as far as their understanding of music and its complexities,” he said. “So as of now in this endeavor, the people that have come to our performances have been very appreciative and aware of the work we put in to perform the music the way we do.”
Lavender has faith that audiences will recognize the non-Pink Floyd work of her bandmates Tod Weidner and Patrick Himes. “Tod and Patrick were successful with their original music endeavors before Eclipse. Both of them maintain their other musical careers while pursuing a career with Eclipse,” she said.
Pink Floyd and Phish also provide a sense of mystery; until recently, both bands were broken up, and fans wanting to connect with their music live could only hear the cover bands, attracting attention and allowing both groups a privileged place among Pink Floyd or Phish followers. That fact was especially true for Strange Design, who painstakingly recreate whole Phish shows. It is luck a Rolling Stones cover group, for example, would not encounter. Nonetheless, even with Phish reforming, Weissman said it will be beneficial for his group by increasing the audience for Phish’s music, an effect that can trickle down to his band.
Playing the music of Phish or Pink Floyd has tempered any notions that the band members would want to go off and wholly pursue their own music. Members of Strange Design do still work on their own projects, though. “We actually have each been in original bands together and separately and continue to write, record and perform original music in-between tours with Strange Design,” Weissman said.
Lavender sees the conflict on a more philosophical level, ascribing a place to cover bands that any fan of Joe Cocker’s covers of the Beatles and Traffic would identify with. “Not everyone is a writer,” she said. “I do believe everyone has a symphony in their soul, but I also believe that there are those of us who are writers and others who are the actors. I view myself as an actor, and like any actor, I can improvise with the script, but I will stay true to my character in my performance.”
The art of the cover is not limited solely to Strange Design and Eclipse, however, as similar-minded bands Hell’s Bells (an AC/DC tribute act) and Us2 (an acoustic tribute to U2) will both bring their music to the Canopy Club in the month of March. First, though, catch Eclipse at the Canopy Club Friday, March 13 at 10 p.m. Tickets cost $10.

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