As I write this, the second evening of Tucson’s annual Great Cover-Up is getting underway. It kicked off last night at Plush, continues this evening at Club Congress, and will likely blast off into low-Earth orbit with a spectacular finale at the mighty Rialto Theater tomorrow night.
The idea for The Great Cover-Up had its genesis in Champaign-Urbana, and has since spiraled out into other cities. I may be biased, but it’s tough to think of a town more fun than quirky Tucson in which to revel in such an extravaganza. Each year, a bunch of local bands pick a famous (or, sometimes, not so famous) artist from musical history and put together a 20-minute set based on that artist. Some of the acts deliver their own bizarre take on it (for example, last year’s massively metal set of The Doors), while others show meticulous attention to detail in recreating a favorite band or performer from years gone by.
The Tucson edition of The Great Cover-Up originated at Club Congress in the 1990s and now encompasses three clubs and some eighty bands. Yes, that’s right, I said eighty. Organizing an event of this magnitude—and with this many musicians—is a task worthy of Atlas, Einstein, and the Swiss Army put together, but everyone involved seems to have a positive, easygoing, “We can do it!” outlook, with none of the slouchy attitude that we sometimes associate with rock ‘n’ rollers. Or maybe it’s just Tucson’s upbeat vibe that makes the whole thing so very enjoyable.
I myself had the great pleasure of participating in the Cover-Up twice. In 2006 we did Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the following year a full-on New York Dolls (circa 1972) set, with PVC platform boots, makeup, wigs, and the whole nine kilometers. I have very dark hair, so the Siouxsie set entailed seven hours in the stylist’s chair to get my hair bright white (I was appearing as proto-goth Siouxsie bassplayer Steve Severin) because, like I said, some bands show meticulous attention to detail.
Our local musical artists work extremely hard to perfect a savagely short set for what is, effectively, a site-specific, one-time-only performance piece. And that’s part of what makes it great. It’s a give everything, do-or-die, all or nothing, brief flash of brilliance on stage, while you imagine yourself part of an adored band. And the whole thing is fantastic.
Another fabulous feature is the almost universal secrecy that shrouds who is covering which band. I know which local acts are playing tomorrow night, but I cannot for the life of me figure who is appearing as ELO (one of my favorites from the ’70s), and who is doing The Beach Boys. One of my spies did notify me who is presenting the Alice in Chains show, but in the interest of fun, discretion, and honor, I’m afraid I cannot share that tidbit with you. It’s going to be good though.
And one more thing: Proceeds benefit the Tucson Artists and Musicians Health Alliance, and tickets are only eight bucks. What could be better than that? So, turn off the TV, get a babysitter for the cat, and go out and support Tucson musicians who have busted their butts tightening up their favorite five or six songs into a 20-minute visual and sonic experience. I’m not kidding you—a few of the covers I’ve seen have been significantly better than the original bands.
Rock on, and see you at Rialto.