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music: Jumping Someone Else's Fame

Tribute bands like Imaginary Boys could be the cure for a lackluster music scene.

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These cover bands, playing other people's music created decades ago in far away cities, are obviously appreciated by the fans turning out in droves to see them. But they could leave some wondering why local bands playing original music don't get the same support.

"Cover bands in general sell more tickets," admits Nine-Twenty-Nine Cafe's manager, Jessica Gordon. An employee and familiar face at the club going back to its days as Twisters, Gordon has seen it all, from sellouts to no-shows. Some famous bands draw barely more than their entourage, while these cover groups can sell the place out.

One September night, Gordon remembers, a show featuring Rocket Queen and Fat Benatar — a Pat Benatar knockoff led by a not-so-svelt stand-in — sold out by 10:30. Gordon says that the club usually sees about two sellouts a month. But mostly that's for early shows that play to the tastes of the underage set. What's particularly surprising about some of these cover-band sellouts, she explains, is that they're late shows that appeal to older audiences and usually draw much smaller crowds.

"The Cure was mostly popular during the '80s," explains Justin Bailey, the man behind this Robert Smith and a member of the local band Zetamale. So it's easy to see why Imaginary Boys is so successful with a slightly older crowd. "These songs have been in people's heads and lives for the past 20 years."

A musician for many years, Bailey says he's used to hearing people congratulating him on a good performance. After an Imaginary Boys show, he says, "I hear just as many people saying thank you."

Simply put, people love The Cure. Any DJ can get a crowd screaming with a single song, so it's not hard to imagine the feeling of playing a whole set to a packed house. "It's neat [being Robert Smith]," Bailey says, "but it's probably neater to hear people talk about Robert Smith." Obviously, there are some who take it seriously, and Bailey likes to slip into the crowd incognito after a show to gauge the reaction. "I met a girl after one show," he remembers, "and she was like, 'Yeah, that Robert Smith needs to put on a few pounds.'" S

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