During my brief stint in the Bay Area nearly fifteen years ago, I managed to go to 924 Gilman Street—the Left Coast’s answer to 315 Bowery—a few times with my friend Brian Peterson. I know one time we went to see our favorite math-rock masters, A Minor Forest, and another time was to see them do pre-…And Justice for All Metallica covers for the Metal Madness Show.
jan 31 sat: Metal Madness Show: East Bay bands doing metal covers: Creeping Death, Rocket Queens, American Metal, Iron Vegan, Motley Jews, Blizzards Of Schnozz, Anal Tap at 924 Gilman a/a $5 8pm *** @ ($1 off with proper metal attire)
Iron Vegan was comprised of members of Neurosis, Noothgrush, and Lost Goat, and was the closest I’ve come to seeing any of those bands play. Their set was all Iron Maiden covers, of course, which was the closest I’ve come to seeing them live as well.I missed Rocket Queens (doing Guns N’ Roses songs) because this cute, blonde girl who wanted to piss off her boyfriend invited me outside to take a walk…
I made it back in time to catch A Minor Forest plus two (as Creeping Death, but not this one) and Brian shaking his head at me. A Minor Forest used to play some of the most intricate, tightly woven compositions ever conceived by a three-piece. As far as them doing other people’s music, Rush covers were what crowds wanted to hear when we’d see them play as A Minor Forest proper. Their doing old Metallica material, with the aid of the two additional members (a second guitarist and a singer), was impressive, but not quite as impressive as they normally were. They’d taken hints from Metal before though, using the line “A Minor Forest supports the destruction of humanity” in the inside cover of their first record, Flemish Altruism: Constituent Parts 1993-1996 (Thrill Jockey, 1996), which their guitarist Eric Hoversten told me they’d lifted from the masthead of a Black Metal magazine belonging to Steve Albini’s girlfriend at the time.
According to the Matador Records website, Creeping Death may have had a larger impact than I would’ve imagined:
With revolving members from A Minor Forest, The Threnody Ensemble and Weakling, Creeping Death could have been responsible for the short-lived metal cover band phenomenon, which swept San Francisco in the late ’90s. Headlining shows with such bands as Iron Vegan, Rocket Queen, and Sleigher, the members of Creeping Death found that being in a cover band paid better and drew bigger and more responsive crowds than any of their respective “real” projects.
I guess when your “real” projects play songs with gamelan structures and time signatures no one can follow, a good ol’ “Ride the Lightning” cover is just the break everyone needs. It’s not just esoterica versus Metallica though, as Chuck Klosterman illustrated while comparing a cover band to a “real” metal band, writing, “One can only wonder how the real guys in Dokken feel about being as popular as five fake guys in [Guns N' Roses cover band Paradise City]” (p. 67). Something about the inauthenticity of a cover band makes the event more fun, lighter, more intimate. I would argue that this is the only reason Weezer ever had a career (well, that and creative, Spike Jonze-helmed videos). Something to do with the levity of enjoying a cover band.
There’s also the silent sting of nostalgia. No one goes to see a band from their youth do new material. Whether it’s a reunion tour or the latest of many, past-their-prime recordings, it’s all about the legacy, the hits from the day. It’s about reliving a piece of the past.
Memories don’t live like people do
They always remember you
– Mos Def, “Travelin’ Man”
Somehow my 924 Gilman Street membership card has survived in my wallet intact since 1998. I wouldn’t still have it, but every time I’ve switched wallets, I’ve seen no reason to take it out. It’s a totem, a token from a time long past that was about another time long past, a copy of a copy of a copy. It doesn’t make me particularly nostalgic—I only went to Gilman a few times—but it does make me smile. As the best memories should.
Speaking of, the girl I made out with that night is almost in her thirties now. Memories don’t live like people do.
Def, Mos. (1998). Travelin’ Man [Recorded by Mos Def & DJ Honda]. On h II [LP]. New York: Relativity Records.
Klosterman, Chuck. (2003). Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. New York: Scribner.