Frustrated with Winnipeg’s failure to attract blockbuster musical talent? Then consider that in the last year alone, performers like Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars and Oasis have had shows right in the heart of our great city. Sort of.
For almost 10 years, Winnipeg’s hottest local talent has put away their own material for a night where emulation is everything. The Bands as Bands concert series has acts spend an evening in the guitar straps of another famous music group.
“It basically always sells out,” Gil Carroll says. He is the festival co-director, artistic director and co-founder of Real Love Winnipeg, a Winnipeg-based concert-promotion company that puts on the series.
“It’s become a super popular event, and it’s always really fun and intense to have a bit of a wild party night where people sing along and dance and have a great time. It’s definitely a legendary event in Winnipeg at this point.”
The idea for the concert series was initially conceived by David Schellenberg, former in-house poacher of talent for The Good Will (and The Uniter’s former Speaker Series coordinator), with the first outing on Oct. 30, 2013 featuring covers of material from bands Devo, the Ramones and Sum 41.
“Basically, Dave had got out of the booking game and started his own company ... when he did that, he basically gifted the Bands as Bands brand to Real Love,” Carroll says.
“Because we’ve been working with David for a long time, and we’ve also played in bands with David over the years, we took it over and have been running with it ever since.”
The selection process for the acts is loose. Real Love approaches local artists who may be suited for the concert series, and other acts reach out on their own.
“Sometimes bands will reach out to us via email or come up to us at a Real Love show. That will happen, or when we’re looking to book the event, we’ll just sort of brainstorm some local bands who we think could pull off a cover set of a famous band,” Carroll says.
“Or maybe we hear some influence from a bigger band in the local band’s sound or style or aesthetic, and so we ask them to learn those songs and perform them at the event. We’re very open-minded, and if we think the local band can pull it off and execute it well, we’re pretty much down.”
And while the musicians are given creative control over their performances, many of them opt for the performance-act approach, best exemplified by local rockers Jamboree.
The 16th Bands as Bands show earlier last year had the group perform as Oasis, the famous brash Britpop act formed by ever-feuding brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher.
“We broached the topic to the Real Love guys of doing a full set of Oasis songs,” drummer and guitarist Alex Braun says.
“It was a lot of fun,” singer and bassist Nick Lavich adds.
“I think it’s one of my fondest memories for a Jamboree set, just because there was less pressure, or it felt like less pressure ... it’s fun to pretend to be someone else, especially the Gallaghers.”
The band struggled during rehearsals with the homogeneity of Oasis’ discography, as well as the sheer volume of available songs.
“The practicing was kind of exhausting, and a lot of Oasis songs sound the same or very close to the same,” Lavich says.
“We would practice the Oasis set, and I would feel dead for two hours afterwards. My throat would be shut. It was kind of a relief being done with the set after we did it, because singing that way fucks up my throat, trying to sound like Liam.”
“And they’re all super loud. We’d be practicing for like two hours and blow out our eardrums,” Braun says.
“Typically, (acts) do it justice pretty well in terms of their arrangement of the songs and the performance. Sometimes they’ll dress up like the band. Usually, it’s done pretty true to the original recordings,” Carroll says.
Carroll recalls notable performances from groups like Yes We Mystic as Coldplay, and this year’s Best of Bands as Bands starring Jaywood as Gorillaz among others, but one infamous, crowd-perplexing moment stands out.
“A local band’s surprise party was advertised as the Pixies, but they came out dressed up as Kiss and performed a Kiss set,” Carroll says. “About 85 per cent of the crowd left. They were mad about it.” In 2023, Real Love will celebrate Bands as Bands’ first decade of flattering imitation with a tenth anniversary shindig to be hosted this Halloween.
“That will be awesome ... we as Real Love Winnipeg, we put on over 50 shows a year, so we’ve always got lots on the books. Mostly at the Good Will, the Handsome Daughter, the West End Cultural Centre ... we sometimes do stuff at the Park Theatre,” Carroll says.
“We’re always booking great local shows and bringing in touring bands, and we’re very excited for the new year.”
Real Love Winnipeg just announced a special Bands as Bands event themed entirely around Blink-182, scheduled to coincide with the recently reformed pop-punk trio’s infamously overpriced reunion tour. Local bands Housepanther, BADFRIEND and 1221 will all perform as Blink-182 (with Zoo Pit as opening act Turnstile). The show is on May 6 at The Good Will.
Published in Volume 77, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 5, 2023)