The Crust Brothers
w/Robbie Fulks, Fred Armisen
Crocodile, 441-5611, Sun Dec 31, 9 pm.

A WORD OR TWO of armchair financial analysis for those of you sweating the recent tech-stock dip here in the Northwest: Put your money in cover bands. I can't be the only one who's noticed the boom. Everywhere you look, it seems, bands are shedding the cred hair shirt and flying their heroes' flags. Throw a rock in this town and you'll hit a tribute night, crammed to the back wall with local bands showing a little love for specific bands (the Cure, the Replacements, the Velvet Underground), or toasting catch-all oeuvres (metal, goth, etc.). On New Year's Eve alone, clubhoppers have the option of seeing no fewer than four bands devoted solely to playing music made famous by other musicians. You have your Hell's Belles' all-girl AC/DC salute at Graceland, classic rock classicists 70 Proof at the Rocksport, the indefatigable Dudley Manlove Quartet at I-Spy, and at the Crocodile, the princely Crust Brothers, a rock cocktail comprised of three parts Silkworm, one part Stephen Malkmus, late of Pavement (God rest their souls).

How did this all happen? It wasn't so terribly long ago that "cover band" was a derogation, a two-word punch line, like "prop comic" or "Mayor Schell." Cover bands were for people who didn't know better, a Pioneer Square abhorrence, or at best, a bag of musical Cheetos for ironic fetishists like Super Diamond, Hit Explosion, or Bjorn Again. They always packed them in, so club owners loved them, but prevailing wisdom dictated that cover bands were decidedly not cool--the poor relations at the family reunion of rock.

Somewhere along the line, however, the strictures loosened. It has become not only acceptable, but kind of righteous to represent the songs you grew up on. It often starts as a one-off, but bands like No. 13 Baby and Hell's Belles have emerged as full-blooded side projects, paying unpretentious, unrepentant homage to the music that made them want to be musicians in the first place.

How many times have you heard a friend, off in an air guitar reverie as "Baba O'Riley" comes on the jukebox, say, "Dude, let's start a Who cover band!"? The impulse is often thwarted by sobriety, laziness, or fear of exposing the inner rock geek, but it's as pure an outgrowth of loving the rock as a 10-year-old kid picking out the intro from "Stairway to Heaven" on his brother's guitar, or a girl singing "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" into a flashlight in front of her bedroom mirror. Put that on a stage and it's closer to art than most bands ever get. It brings out the best in artist and audience alike; absent the nerve-wracking pressure and inherent indulgence of performing their own music in front of people, the bands loosen up into pure and fearless performers (Death Cab for Kraftwerk, anyone?).

Musicians you like playing music they love. And though orthodox curmudgeons love to bitch about what's not cool, the fact of the matter has become plain: The shows are fucking fun, and fun is what rock shows ought to be. Maybe not always and maybe not only, but sometimes, surely. Jesus. The Crust Brothers sprang from the desire to play Bob Dylan songs all night long, something anyone with a pair of ears and a soul should be able to get all the way behind. Their first show, in late 1997 at the Crocodile, was a perfect example of why the cover night can be a glory to behold. It was a casual triumph of pure fandom, equal parts reverence and irreverence, fueled by beer and camaraderie. Everybody sang (Malkmus took lead on Silkworm's "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like"), and after every song, the whole crowd cried, "YEAH!"

After a battery of selections from The Basement Tapes ("Million Dollar Bash" and "Bessie Smith" among them), the all-Dylan m.o. gave way to drunken inversions of Marvin Gaye, the Byrds, the Stones, and most heroically of all, Skynrd's epic "Tuesday's Gone." The Crust Brothers was a total dream, pairing two of the finest groups around in a drunken revel that had no other expressive purpose than to say: "These are the best goddamn songs EVER!" It was awesome, spelled "o-s-s-u-m." A second Seattle show, at the Breakroom, found the repertoire expanded to include Creedence, Uncle Tupelo, and Guns N' Roses. I have no idea what New Year's will bring, but I can't wait.

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