How I Learned to Love Tribute Bands with the Nirvana Experience on New Year's Eve

Houston's the Nirvana Experience rang in the New Year at Double Wide on Wednesday
Houston's the Nirvana Experience rang in the New Year at Double Wide on Wednesday
Courtesy the artist

On Wednesday night in Dallas, this 38 year-old, balding suburbanite and married father of one (with a second child on the way) did something I hadn't done before. Though I've been canvassing the North Texas musical landscape for over 20 years as a fan and, more recently, as a music critic, there was something missing from my list of seemingly unavoidable Dallas concert experiences: I purposely watched a tribute band. A Nirvana one, to be specific, billing themselves rather blandly as the Nirvana Experience.

I sang along, I pumped my fist with fervor on a couple of occasions, I even moshed a bit. And I enjoyed it. For the most part.

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Each New Year's Eve, concert offerings throughout the Metroplex roll out like a majestic orgy. With all due respect to Spoon, this year someone looking to catch many of this area's best local bands had their shot and then some. Specifically, clubs in Deep Ellum were really ready to ring in the New Year with the vanguard of local talent. Three Links, Adair's Saloon and Trees offered up a veritable walking tour of killer bands to carry oneself into 2015 with.

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Great concerts all around to be certain, but for a Deep Ellum NYE, I felt like I needed something a bit more off-kilter, something I wouldn't normally pay to see on many other random nights throughout the year. With that in-mind, the most intriguing bill of the night was offered on the far end of Deep Ellum, at Double Wide.

In all honesty, I swear, I'm not an elitist that has long scoffed at the mere notion of a tribute band, yet I've been skeptical. There are several local ones I have wanted to catch in concert but haven't for some reason. I've heard great things about Le Cure, Panic, Forgotten Space and Arm the Homeless, but have failed to witness what they do to this point. Such incidental avoidance is extra-surprising given the amount of tribute bands in Dallas. (In fact, Rich Girls were playing Club Dada at the same time as the Nirvana Experience.) Perhaps I've just lacked that last bit of motivation to dedicate an entire night to a talented group of musicians playing what has often seemed, to me at least, an elevated form of karaoke, no matter how passionately or intricately it's done.

But I do appreciate the difference between a tribute band and cover band. I will easily admit, I'm often annoyed when I get stuck at certain events with party-ready cover bands such as Emerald City or La Freak. Playing disco and wearing hot pants isn't what I think most legit tribute bands look to do.

From what I've been able to gather, the men and women of tribute bands offer something I do admire, which seems to be a true enjoyment in the interpretation of a beloved band, as opposed to playing some random grab-bag of songs from various artists of yore. It can be argued that a greater form of fandom doesn't exist. I get that.

By itself, the Double Wide is a fine place to knock a few back as one year rolls into the next. That place can simply flick the lights on and it oozes a perfect setting for some bad decisions to be made, morning-after consequences be damned. But add the Easy Slider food truck, a midnight toast with 8-ounce bottles of Miller High Life (the Champagne of Beers!), and the Double Wide's NYE offering was officially turned into an event. That's what I needed. An event that didn't involve thousands of people crammed into a poor-man's version of Times Square with local TV anchors wishing they were Pitbull and Ryan Seacrest.

Joshua Fleming's Foot and The Phuss kit on NYE
Joshua Fleming's Foot and The Phuss kit on NYE
Sean Doran

Most importantly, however, Double Wide offered a ballsy mix of what I wanted without my even realizing it. A great local band, the Phuss, and the aforementioned Nirvana act, a trio of guys in from Houston. A legitimate argument can be made that the Phuss had as eventful of a 2014 as any other regional act thanks to near-death experiences, thousands of miles touring and the release of one of the best rock records this area heard all year. Led by Joshua Fleming, with Trey Alfaro, the drummer who seems to have fully recovered from a horrific hit-and-run accident just a few months ago, the Phuss tore through a punk-paced set that ended all too soon. The packed music-side of the Doublewide probably could've called it a night after their set and been happy.

But The Nirvana Experience, beginning just after the Miller High Life Midnight toast, kicked things into an even higher gear for the next 90 minutes. Led by a dude sporting a thrift store sweater, an appropriately grizzled howl and stringy, dirty blond hair, the tribute band-style Kurt Cobain looked and sounded the part he was hoping to embody. The music was spot on, and dudes in Target-bought Nirvana T-shirts were seen crowd-surfing.

As a group, we had fun. For me, it was easy to close my eyes and remember the first time I watched the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video as a Keller High School student, and the times I popped in the cassette tape of Nevermind into the tape-deck of my friend's car in early 1992. But that's what got me to thinking about whether this was fun or just weird.

As I stated earlier, I moshed, I sang along and all of that. But there were many moments where I wondered, "What am I really watching, here?" Nirvana, as cliché as it may be, was a group I formed an intimate relationship with via MTV, magazine articles and pre-Internet fandom activities such as, you know, talking about them with friends, face-to-face, sans phones and chat-room sites. Unlike the Smiths or Grateful Dead, I was a part of the revolution that Nirvana helped ignite. Seeing a guy that's surely younger than myself play the part of Cobain as I reveled caused mixed feelings as I thought about it during the show and afterwards.

But, in the end, I got it. I get it even more even now. Seeing a tribute band that's sincerely putting effort into replicating the spirit of a seminal band isn't in need of over-analysis. I can now admit I've wasted too much time in the past 36 hours wondering "what does it all mean?" Wednesday night was meant to be one thing: entertaining. A fun time. And it was. It was a damn good time, truth be told.

So, get on a plane, come as you are, drink some pennyroyal tea, and like all their pretty songs because here tribute bands are here now, ready to entertain us. What's not to like about that?


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