Cover rock

By Megan Ferringer

On Thursday nights, Wrigleyville’s Cubby Bear undergoes an old school transformation-the baseball fanatics and their beloved Dave Matthews tunes that often brim over in the late night bar become replaced by the sounds of Naughty By Nature, Vanilla Ice and Salt ‘n Peppa, live on stage.

But instead of seeing famous faces and one-hit-wonder musicians performing, it’s four white guys spitting out rhymes. And all the while, they’re sporting heavy gold chains around their necks while bouncing around in 1991-inspired Adidas track suits with beepers clipped onto their elastic waistband.

The ’90s are back and so is getting down with O.P.P. while sipping on some gin and juice-all courtesy of the Too White Crew, just one of Chicago’s many cover bands.

With more than 80 cover bands raising a raucous through the city and venues blaring live acts of glam rock ’80s tunes to Twisted Sister, Elvis and Radiohead, Chicago has just about every era and genre of music covered-from one-hit-wonders and legends of rock ‘n’ roll to the forerunners of old skool hip-hop.

“Cover bands take audiences back,” said John “C-Note” Cordogiannes of Too White Crew. “People that come to our show, or any other show for that matter, are seeing a very interesting art form. It’s easy to look at it almost as a spectacle standpoint moreso than it is for you to come and just hear, ‘Let’s talk about sex.'”

Chicago’s cover band scene was shaped nearly 20 years ago, and since then, it has continuously grown in popularity, Cordogiannes said. His own crew of hip-hop savvy white men has been around for six years, leading the large pack of Bon Jovi wannabes and Elvis look-a-likes.

Cordogiannes likes to think that Too White Crew is the most unique cover band in existence, and if by no other measuring stick, they’re the only people in the world who do what they do-take music that was never performed live in the first place and bring it on stage for an audience.

“There are a lot of cover bands that will only cover one or two hits, so you get to hear all that great music plus the whole vibe of that era in one show,” Cordogiannes said. “We do that with old skool hip-hop. Nobody is going to run out to see Vanillia Ice to hear that one song he does, but they will come to see us to hear us do that plus ‘O.P.P’ by Naughty by Nature, ‘Humpty Dance’ or ‘Hip-hop Hooray.'”

Calling themselves “Hella fresh,” other members of the band include DJ Shor T, Professor Milk, M80, Woodsy Fresh and Main-in Rebate. And wearing bright colored warm-up suits, giant gold chains, knee pads and a New York Yankees hat tilted to the side, Too White Crew has not only managed to capture the sounds of the ’90s, but the sights, as well. Performing shows that are “wild, and pure 1991,”

Cordogiannes and his crew have even managed to capture choreographed hip-hop moves of “In Living Color,” bringing their very own Jennifere Lopez-esque fly girls onto stage.|

“Our drummer wears a beeper on his hat and he’s always checking it and having to call his b—–s with his brick phone … it doesn’t work, mind you,” Cordogiannes said. “It’s that ridiculous era. It was colorful, wild and crazy, and it was a great time for hip-hop, too. It was the golden era of hip-hop before the days of Escalades and ‘That’s how we do.’ We want to take our audience a decade back.”

What sets Chicago’s cover band scene apart from any other city like New York or L.A. is a number of attributes: the city has cover bands that are committed to being a good tribute band, people that have an undying interest and a loyal group of venues that constantly welcome cover bands from all genres. Venues like Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville have become mainstays for many bands-Chicago, unlike many other major cities, has its own collection of venues dedicated to pure cover band performances, Cordogiannes said. For that reason, Chicago has become a “cover band community” of sorts, giving musicians dedicated to the quirky art form a safe haven and ever-growing fan base.

“I’ve become a cover band junkie,” said Amber Blaisdell, a graduate of Northern Illinois University. “I live about an hour from Chicago’s suburbs and drive far on the weekends to see these bands. Sixteen Candles, Too White Crew and Wedding Banned are just a few of my favorites-they always give 120 percent into their performances and deliver each song with such a high intensity.”

Originally breaking into Chicago’s cover band scene as a Neil Diamond tribute band, Wedding Banned has since dropped their ‘Sweet Caroline’ ways and instead adopted their own DIY punk rock meets ’80s glam style. But rather than taking on the decades’ classics in a straightforward manner, Wedding Banned mixes and mashes bits and pieces into one chaotic concoction, said Bruce Winche’ll, the bassist for Wedding Banned.

From performing the “most powerful cover band song on earth, ‘Jessie’s Girl'” to splicing “Baby Got Back” into classic Metallica, members Winche’ll, Captain Mantastic, Barry Mitchell Timmons and The Gooch have produced a show more like theater than anything else. From wearing powder blue, ruffled tuxedo tops to humping blown up love dolls on stage, Wedding Banned seems to have the entertainment bit down to a science. And it’s their own disorderly nature that lends itself out to the rest of the audience.

“We had a show at Cubby Bear where a girl literally climbed over the sound board on the stage and dove off, hitting Barry’s new Les Paul and breaking it,” Winche’ll said. “People will do crazy things. We’re playing a set and all of a sudden you see these girls muff diving in the middle of the stage and you’re just like, ‘Ohhh. This isn’t a regular job.'”

Beyond the cover band label and whether or not hip-hop, metal or punk-rock is the genre of choice, they are all first and foremost musicians, but there’s a stigma against them that limits people from seeing beyond the party band persona, a bad and ill-informed reputation that Winche’ll originally became guilty of before his work with Wedding Banned.

“When I first got into it, to be honest, I’ve never had an interest in seeing cover bands. But when I started watching them, the better bands, I saw that they put a lot of work into their show-they are all amazing musicians,” Winche’ll said. “Every once of us in the cover band community is a working musician, and if you can entertain people and make them go crazy while getting paid to do so … well, that’s a pretty good job. It doesn’t matter how you do it, whether you’re performing a cover or an original song, just as long as you entertain people.”