Fans, wearing T-shirts with logos of “The Wall” and “Dark Side of the Moon,” file into The Paramount in Huntington, where a stage is equipped with a familiar oval screen and a monstrous lighting rig awaits. When the lights go down, the sold-out crowd cheers as the opening chords of “Learning to Fly” come over the loudspeakers. However, they are not there to see Pink Floyd, but rather an international Pink Floyd tribute band, Brit Floyd, which performs material from the now-defunct group’s legendary catalog to a T.
“This band gives younger people a way to get into Pink Floyd because Roger Waters [Pink Floyd bassist-vocalist] and David Gilmour [Pink Floyd guitarist-vocalist] are not getting on stage together anymore,” says Ryan Thompson, 24, of Mount Sinai from the crowd. “At shows like this, you still get the flavor and the vibe.”
Tribute bands — a group dedicated solely to the music, and often the look, of a multiplatinum act — have always been popular on Long Island, but in the past few years, they have become an extremely hot commodity. The number and variety of bands (from Led Zeppelin to Sublime to the Eagles) have increased, as have the venues presenting the acts.
Eric Metz, 43, of East Hampton, who was attending the Brit Floyd show, captured why these bands have become high in demand: “A lot of the classic rock icons are either dead or they charge $300 a ticket. For $40, this is a more affordable and easier way to go.”
BECOMING THE DEMON
By day, Anthony De Lucia Jr. of Sussex County, New Jersey, works as a business consultant, but on weekends he turns into bassist Gene Simmons in the Kiss tribute band Alive ’75, which will play Mulcahy’s in Wantagh on June 4.
In between raising his sons with his wife, Angela, he studies videos of Simmons at Winterland Ballroom in late 1974 or at Cobo Hall in 1975 to pick up the little details about how to play the role of the Demon.
“It’s about capturing his sharp, creature-like movements, how to hold the pick, how to put your hands on the guitar — I’m conscious of everything,” says De Lucia, 51. “I’ve gotten critical feedback like, ‘You have to work on being more demonic. Your smile needs to be more like a scowl.’ These are tips from hyper fans and it’s helpful.”
He’s invested “tens of thousands” into putting on a live show that represents Kiss circa 1975 and re-creates their multiplatinum live album “Alive.”
The band’s stage show comes complete with cryogenic technology, ground fog, a smoking guitar, a 4-by-9-foot LED box sign, simulated explosions via synchronized strobe lights with sound effects and even live fire breathing (where permitted).
“We try to make people forget they are watching a tribute act and feel like they are seeing something that’s real,” says De Lucia. “We want to give them something to remember.”
When asked why he thinks there’s such a craving for tribute bands, De Lucia says, “There’s a lot of emotion for the icons of the late ’60s and ’70s era. The music was more meaningful and reflective of what was going on in people’s lives, therefore they are connected to it and enjoy stepping back there.”
Tribute bands are so popular at The Paramount that the venue has launched a series showcasing a variety of tribute acts each month.
“It’s become a strong part of our show offerings and it’s what the folks on the Island have been demanding,” says Adam Ellis, director of marketing. “While they are not seeing the real thing, it’s still an amazing experience.”
One of the most anticipated upcoming shows in the series at The Paramount is the June 18 gig featuring Appetite for Destruction, a Guns N’Roses tribute band that has been on the scene since 1998.
Even though the real GN’R is launching a massive stadium tour across the country this summer, The Paramount views this as a positive effect.
“I think it helps that Guns N’Roses is out there in the news, people are talking about them, and they are all over social media. It reminds people how much they love that music,” says Ellis. “If tickets aren’t available, seeing a tribute show is maybe the next best option. It serves as a complement to the real deal.”
John Ricotta of Lindenhurst is a married father of three who works in print publishing. But twice a month this 9-to-5er straps on a Les Paul guitar and dons a wig and a top hat to play the role of Slash in the band.
“There’s a lot of physical impersonation involved but none of that matters unless the music sounds the way it’s supposed to,” says Ricotta, 39. “If the songs don’t reflect how people grew up listening to them, they notice. We go out of our way to make sure to do their music justice.”
WILD TIME IN WANTAGH
Nostalgia reigns huge at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh. The current draw is a turn-back-the-clock double bill of Spice Girls tribute Wannabe and boy-band tribute act Larger Than Life playing June 10.
“We have Larger Than Life about once a month and people keep coming back because they are that good,” says Rick Cappiello, the club’s manager and talent buyer. “People are such enthusiasts of the music that they are happy to see and hear the next best thing. Last time they played, we were so packed we had to turn people away at the door.”
Larger Than Life performs as a multi-act tribute that encompasses an entire boy-band era — Backstreet Boys, ’NSync, 98 Degrees, LFO, Color Me Badd, Boyz II Men and more. They feed off ladies’ love for their high school heartthrobs.
“The older you get, the more you want to feel like a kid again, and tribute acts provide that sensation,” says Edvin Ortega, 31, of Yonkers, one of the four members of Larger Than Life. “The whole thing is an escape. You are taking people back to a simpler time that they miss.”
The husband-and-wife team of Michael and Hillary Epstein of Smithtown emulate former rock ‘n’ roll power couple Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in their Fleetwood Mac tribute, Fleetwood Macked, which comes to The Paramount June 3.
“We are the Lindsey and Stevie that actually stayed together,” says Hillary, 48, of their 20-year marriage and musical partnership. “Stevie Nicks has always been an idol of mine. When I was a little girl, I’d twirl around in front of my mirror to ‘Gypsy.’ It’s a dream to be able to pay tribute to her and have people enjoy it.”
Originally the couple was the nucleus of a ’90s alternative punk band, the Basals. When that died down, Chris Antos of Live Wire, an AC/DC tribute band, made a suggestion.
“Chris said, ‘You guys look like Lindsey and Stevie. Why aren’t you doing a Fleetwood Mac tribute?’ ” says Hillary. “I have a naturally husky voice with a raspy quality. I studied her vocal inflection and pronunciation a lot. I had to take on a West Coast accent and dye my hair blond.”
With Fleetwood Mac reunited and actively touring in recent years, what makes people come see Fleetwood Macked?
“Sometimes when you love a band, you can’t get enough of them,” says Hillary. “We have people who just saw Fleetwood Mac come to our show because they get a kick out of seeing how well we can perform the material.”
DISCO DAYS REDUX
Some tribute acts pay homage to artists who have died. One such act is Rainere Martin of Philadelphia, who will resurrect the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, on June 10 at The Paramount.
The first 45-rpm record Martin’s mom bought her was “On the Radio,” which she has been singing since a young age.
“I never tried to sound like Donna,” says Martin, 46. “I’m blessed to have the same vocal tone. It’s natural and comes easy to me.”
Once she puts on a wig and a handmade sequined dress, Martin transforms into Summer, often causing people to react dramatically.
“People have come up to me in tears telling me I brought back memories and how much Donna meant to them,” Martin says. “If they’ve seen Donna in concert, they want to relive that moment. If they haven’t, they want to get a feel for what it was like.”
Working with Martin to bring back the disco era on the same bill is headliner the New York Bee Gees. While Maurice and Robin Gibb have died (older brother Barry is still alive), the NYBGs seek to revive some of their magic on stage.
“The Bee Gees’ music became such a big part of our pop culture,” says Peter Mazzeo of Northport, who becomes Barry Gibb on stage. “Not a lot of people play Bee Gees music because the sound is a real challenge to duplicate. You have to believe in what you are doing or else people won’t connect with you.”
When the New York Bee Gees played The Paramount this past winter, tickets went fast.
“People were scalping tickets on the street,” says Mazzeo, 55. “I was blown away.”
As people exit The Paramount after a 2-hour-plus performance from Brit Floyd, all customers appear to be quite satisfied.
“This was my fifth time seeing them and it’s as close to the real thing as I’m ever going to see,” says Kevin Blom, 31, of Commack, as he walked out of the show. “These guys put on a show like no other.”
Nick Comito, 61, of Smithtown brought his 12-year-old son Nick Jr., and together they even caught a guitar pick while seated in the second row.
“I saw them last year and they were so good I had to come again,” says the elder Comito. “They are so refined, they capture Floyd note for note. If you close your eyes, you’d think you were listening to a Pink Floyd album.”
Tribute bands will be popping up all over Long Island this summer. Here’s a sample of some local concerts to catch.
The Paramount in Huntington
JUNE 3 Voyage (Journey tribute) and Fleetwood Macked (Fleetwood Mac tribute)
JUNE 10 The New York Bee Gees (Bee Gees tribute) and Rainere Martin (Donna Summer tribute)
JUNE 18 Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’Roses tribute)
JUNE 24 Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot (Billy Joel tribute)
JULY 1-2 Get the Led Out (Led Zeppelin tribute)
JULY 23 The Purple Xperience (Prince tribute)
Mulcahy’s in Wantagh
JUNE 3 Half Step (Grateful Dead tribute)
JUNE 4 Alive ’75 (Kiss tribute) and Victim of Changes (Judas Priest tribute)
JUNE 10 Wannabe (Spice Girls tribute) and Larger Than Life (boy bands tribute)
JUNE 11 Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot (Billy Joel tribute)
JUNE 25 ZBTB (Zac Brown Band tribute)
JUNE 30 Badfish (Sublime tribute)
The Space at Westbury
JULY 1 Lords of 52nd Street (Billy Joel tribute)
AUG. 19 The Fast Lane (Eagles tribute)
AUG. 26 RAEL (Peter Gabriel tribute) and The Sting Tribute Show
— DAVID J. CRIBLEZ
A tribute journey as . . . Journey
In 2009, Hugo Valenti of Islip sang in a Journey tribute band called Evolution, but little did he know the journey he was about to take. The band was hired by concert promoter Live Nation to perform a short surprise set in between No Doubt and Fall Out Boy at the Bamboozle festival at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
The crowd went wild as the band, billed as a “special guest,” arrived on stage unannounced, cranking out Journey anthems “Separate Ways,” “Any Way You Want It” and “Don’t Stop Believin’, ” plus the ballad “Faithfully.” The performance was a big success until things took a strange turn.
“By the time we got back in the limo and traveling over the George Washington Bridge, it was all over the Internet that the special guest at Bamboozle was Journey back with former singer Steve Perry and they were the best band of the night,” says Valenti, 53.
Valenti looks, sounds and moves so much like the legendary Journey lead singer that the crowd thought he was the real McCoy. Word got back to the band and they reacted, thinking Evolution was trying to pass themselves off as the real Journey.
“The following Wednesday I got a cease and desist letter from the band,” says Valenti. “The funny part is we were hired by Live Nation, which is run by Irving Azoff, who manages Journey.”
After the incident, Evolution parted ways with Valenti, who then decided to form his own Journey tribute band called Voyage, which will be headlining The Paramount in Huntington on June 3. — DAVID J. CRIBLEZ