February 16, 2011

Cover me: Meet the world's best Bruce Springsteen tribute band.

I've seen the real Bruce Springsteen twelve times. I've seen the fake Bruce Springsteen five. I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which one is more fun.

Of course, going to a real Bruce show is an unforgettable event, while seeing fake Bruce is just a really good way to spend your Friday night. But the actual Bruce Springsteen charges $100 per concert, which always take place in a gigantic stadium and come with the very real risk of hearing crap like "Outlaw Pete." Fake Bruce, on the other hand, charges $15, crams into a tiny bar or club and plays only the hits.

Plus, after six or seven beers, it becomes hard to tell the difference. That's not a credit to the awesome power of alcohol; it's a testament to Matt Ryan and American Dream, the venerable group that puts together the world's greatest Springsteen tribute show, Bruce in the USA.

Matt and his band play "Badlands," they play "Born to Run, they play "Rosalita." But they also play "Trapped," "Factory," "Light of Day" and other unexpected gems from the Bruce library. You can tell that they've been making a living off Springsteen's material for quite a while; Matt often launches into a well-known bit of Bruce's stage banter during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," something that most fans would remember from the E Street Band's Reunion Tour in the late 90s/early 2000s.

Basically, Matt Ryan's boys don't take "pretending to be Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band" lightly. A few days before our first Bruce in the USA show, my friends and I debated the importance of a large black man stand-in for Clarence Clemons. I argued that it wasn't necessary, as long as the band sounded good, but I knew I was wrong the second the fake Big Man busted out his first solo. A medium-sized white man just would not do, and Matt probably realized that from day one.

There's often a stigma attached to cover bands. "Why don't they write their own music? What losers!" Those are things that I imagine people who dislike cover bands might say. But -- and pardon me for paraphrasing a Chuck Klosterman piece in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs -- why would you play your own music and draw 20 fans a night when you can play someone else's and draw 200, or 2,000? If your main goal is to form a band, make a living and have some fun, I can't think of a better way to do it.

So kudos to you, Matt Ryan and American Dream. Not only do you fill my life with rocking Springsteen music one or two weekends a year, but it most likely pays your rent and car insurance, too. How many people can say the same?

For anyone in the New England area that's interested, Bruce in the USA will be playing this Thursday at The Met in Pawtucket and this Friday at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. If you need any further swaying, my friend Matt Kakley's epic feature on the group will surely do the trick.

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