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Top Ten Tribute Acts In The Jam Band Scene

Pink Talking Fish founder and bassist Eric Gould sat down with L4LM to discuss his favorite tribute acts in the music scene today. Gould founded Pink Talking Fish in 2013, coming up with the idea and penning a potential setlist fusing the music of Phish, Talking Heads, and Pink Floyd. As he described it in a recent interview, one look at the setlist, and he said to himself, “oh my god, this band has to happen.”

Todd Stoops, Grateful Dead Set Added To Pink Talking Fish’s NYC Concert Cruises

[Cover photo courtesy of Bryan Lasky]

I love performing in a Tribute Act.  I engulf myself with music that I value at the highest levels of love and respect.  Then I have the pleasure and the honor of performing to an audience who shares my enthusiasm and trusts me to add personal creativity into the mix.  It takes a certain personality in a musician to put together a Tribute Show that honors the original acts and transports the audience to that place where they feel most at home.  My favorite Tribute Acts have this dedication but also add a slice of originality, giving the audience fresh footprints on the platform of the music they love.  The Jam Scene is all about a sense of adventure through music and, therefore, is the perfect place for these unique Tribute Acts to live and thrive.

While I haven’t heard every Tribute Band in the jam scene, here are some of the ones that get me excited:

10. The Z3 featuring Ed Mann – Funky Takes on Frank Zappa: Led by Tim Palmieri and an allstar cast of characters in the Northeast scene, this group uses the music of Frank Zappa to create funked out jam vehicles.  Zappa alum, Ed Mann, adds a classic sound to the flavor of the band.

9. DeadPhish Orchestra: “A seamless web of Phish and The Dead to split open and melt your face”: This Colorado quartet combines the jamband giants into one experience.  The setlists are creative and bandleader, Ted Tilton, adds to the fun by re-naming combinations like Playin’ in Suzy Greenburg’s Band and YEMberland Blues.

8. The Motet: Yes, this band plays original music.  However, they have also earned their place in the tribute genre.  They have created and brilliantly executed tribute shows such as 1975 Mixtape, Funk Is Dead, Talking Heads, Michael Jackson and more.  These guys are one of the few bands that have blurred the lines of category and that is exciting to me.

7. Bustle In Your Hedgerow: Instrumental Led Zepplin with an edge!  The jam scene needed this one. Paying tribute to the Titans of Rock and Roll while also exploring the jam within makes this outfit a diamond in the rough.

6. Start Making Sense: Talking Heads Tribute/HmfO: A Hall and Oates Tribute: When PTF formed I was surprised that the Talking Heads material was the most challenging to pull off.  This band masters the simplistic layers that embody the complex whole.  It’s a beautiful collective.  Classy that they often open for themselves with their Hall And Oates alter ego.  Bravo, Gents!

5. Melvin Seals JGB: This one is another gray area, since Melvin was a part of JGB for so many years.  I want to give him some love here though, because he carries the torch for the JGB sound like none other.  The spirit is there.  The energy is that perfect mix of feel good soul and vibrant bounce.  Life is just a little bit better with JGB around.

4. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead: These guys cracked the code: A Grateful Dead show with an X Factor that appeals to the young, fresh and hip audience.  The music is alive and full of high energy.  The surface of this concept was scratched with Jazz Is Dead about a decade ago but this is the act that is taking it to the streets.  Has GD gone metrosexual?!

3. Easy Star Allstars: Although this band writes original music, the success of their career has been in the tribute realm.  Dub Side Of The Moon is probably the most popular tribute album in the world.  The work they have done putting their creative stamp into the music of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Beatles and more is an inspiration to artists of all levels.  The live show is happening and the media synergy is wildly entertaining.

2. Zappa Plays Zappa: I remember the day Frank passed away.  Crushing.  It makes me happy that Dweezil carried on the family torch.  Just like his dad, he has found some of the most ridiculous players alive to perform some of the most ridiculous music ever written.  We are a better world with a live show out there that does justice to Zappa’s music.

1. Dark Star Orchestra: DSO has many accolades.  They have harnessed the sound of The Grateful Dead.  They have recreated many and most of the classic setlists from the past.  They have performed many more live shows than The Grateful Dead in much less time.  These are not the reasons why I picked them as #1.  The reason I deem them the best Tribute Act in the Jam Scene is because they pay tribute to more than just the music.  They pay tribute to the culture.

The fact that DSO is carrying on the spirit and opportunity for the Deadhead culture to continue with the touring experience is a blessing to our scene.  Shakedown Street lives on.  The ride will continue to be enjoyed.  Tour is one of the last great American dreams in existence.  The power and adventure in Tour is the richest treasure in this scene.  As The Dead perform their final shows together this year, it is a pleasure to say “Thank you, DSO, for keeping the most precious asset of our scene alive and well.”

Be sure to check out Pink Talking Fish and ShwiKus Plays P-Funk At Phunk The Winter!, February 7th at the Gramercy Theatre. Here’s a killer “Divided Sky > Pigs (3 Different Ones) > Pigs” from PTF to get you in the mood:

Honorable Mentions:

Shafty – Portland’s Tribute To Phish: These guys keep current with all the new material that comes out and write setlists like The Disco Biscuits with inverted songs and other tricks.  It is always exciting to see what they will do next.

California Voodoo – An Honest Interpretation of Widespread Panic: The WSP energy is alive in Kansas City.  Close your eyes and you will hear JB through the vocals of Scotty McCormick Jr.  KC is a big Panic town and these musicians bring the heat and create a fantastic WSP experience.

7 Below – A Tribute To Phish: This band prides themselves on owning the complex Phish material and performing it with precision.  Want to hear a flawless Reba?  Want to hear YEM>Bowie>YEM>Bowie? Go see 7 Below.

Dead Floyd: To combine The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd is to climb a spiritual mountain.  Both bands harness an intimate depth and deep power.  These gentlemen from Colorado do it justice.