Master of Puppets

investigates cover bands and talks to all-girl Metallica tribute Misstallica

Rumour has it York isn’t renowned for its buzzing and original music scene. Looking at a Fibbers listings poster, I beg to differ – York has a fantastically unoriginal music scene. “York is so cooool!” enthuses Misstallica’s Teddi Tarnoff, bassist of the only all-girl Metallica tribute band, “on the East Coast [Pennsylvania] where we’re from, there are hardly any tribute bands […] but over here it’s huge”. It’s true. It’s not just York’s unfathomably flat planes riddled with some of my least favourite ‘C’’s —cobbles and cyclists— that attract tribute bands, but in Britain we just can’t stop eating that tribute shit up. Starting out in the 60s with Elvis impersonators and Beatles tribute acts, the cover scene has evolved and morphed into an ever familiar-sounding mega-group of everyone’s second favourite band. In fact, the UK now hosts festivals solely dedicated to tribute acts; the uncanny ‘Glastonbudget’ which takes places the last weekend of every May and is now in its 7th year has been headlined by the likes of Guns 2 Roses, Blings of Leon, The Fillers and Green Date for a spot of guess-the-original-band-name. Also, a more recent addition to the scene is the mind-perplexingly named ‘Fake Festival’ which tours round UK towns and cities over Spring and Summer supporting local tribute and original bands.

Despite the fate of many of their inspirers, the tribute scene has definitely not had its heyday (and this truism is not just based on my one-woman KISS tribute of demanding every DJ in York to play ‘Crazy Nights’ on repeat). Proving this fact more than ever are Philadelphia’s Misstallica – four girls aged from 19 to their early 20s and graduates of Paul Green’s infamous School of Rock, they are set on reigniting the old-school Metallica flame, but with less facial hair and more breast. “Who likes old Metallica?” growls Gina-James Gleason-Hetfield to the Fibbers crowd. Well, most fans, and I don’t think I stand alone in saying that most new ‘tallica is a thing that should not be’. Fortunately, Misstallica also concur – only playing Metallica tracks from the first four albums, Gina, Teddi, Courtney and Kaleen illustrate both their good taste and insane musical prowess. Friends of the all-metal Bee Gees tribute act ‘Tragedy’, Misstallica were picked up by the O2 Academy group and are now already on their second UK tour, quite easily heading for the dizzying heights of tribute-fame (which is not to be underestimated – look at The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Dread Zeppelin and Limehouse Lizzy, to name a few). Talking to them it seems like their reception in the UK has been good and is rapidly getting better. “I’ve got so many Facebook friend requests” laughs lead Gina, “when Metallica fans come out and go ape-shit everyone has such an awesome time”. Equally, watching four Metallica fans play with such energy and force on stage is just as awesome.

When Metallica fans come out and go ape-shit everyone has such an awesome time

There is a vast amount of Metallica tributes out there to choose from, including Mentallica, Mortallica, Hattallica, MetalicaUK, One, James Hetfield Lookalike and Beatallica (Metallica/Beatles mash-up) who in 2005 received much media attention after being threatened with a lawsuit by Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Despite sounding like they may sing masturbation-themed songs, Beatallica won their lawsuit with the help of ‘tallica drummer Lars Ulrich who, according to Wikipedia along with Hetfield and Hammett “enjoy Beatallica’s music”. Given the slightly saturated scene, Misstallica’s reception is a massive credit to them, despite this Gina assures me that they “don’t have rivalries”. When I ask what their favourite ‘tallica album is, the indecision (which eventually swings towards Ride the Lightening) is an easy reminder of why tribute bands can be so ace – the collective admiration for music which translates so seamlessly to performance is generally what makes a band worth paying to see. More than that, tribute bands hark back to their original’s less commercial roots, consequently avoiding the soul-destroying stadiums tours plagued with impersonal big screens, the sickening smell of a sell-out and most unforgivably seating. “This is like a fun thing that we do, coming to the UK doesn’t make any money,” Teddi reiterates, who is also the lead singer of King Diamond tribute Queen Diamond, “but it is a fun thing that does help pay the bills a little and it also helps us to meet really cool people and pass our sound along.”

“Fun”. That’s exactly what tribute bands are – fun. As drummer Kaleen rightly points out—“people are more likely to come see music they know,”—but I’ve always wondered why good tribute bands, like Misstallica with admirable influences and extremely talented musicians, aren’t playing original music. Luckily there is no need for stern words and probing questions – as soon as we sit down Gina sheds some light, “we’ve all got our own things going on […] we’ve got our new band Christ, with me, Kaleen and Teddi which is an original band, we’ll be recording in the summer”. This cheers me up. As much as I love a good tribute band and the opportunity they provide to listen to big bands in a small environment with a fresh perspective, any big name could probably do without the ego massage; even if they did deserve it once upon a time. Besides, without trying to excuse mediocrity or sound like a mother, if a band’s original music is crap, at least they did it themselves.

Having said that, the tribute scene is showing no signs of slowing, and as long as York is on the map Britain will always take you. But where does the future lie for Misstallica? “Most festivals in America, even in Europe are just not interested in tribute bands”, Teddi shrugs, “this is what we do, you know”. “We’d love to meet Metallica, so if you know them…” smiles Gina, “or Slayer! (gesturing at my shirt) if you know Slayer we wouldn’t say no”. Well, if I did I now know what I’d ask them – “what tribute band would you be in?”

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