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For Those About to Pretend to Rock

When news became available that Guns n’ Roses tribute band Paradise City was playing the Club Tavern on Thursday night, word spread between my friends like wildfire. On Halloween of 2003, another tribute band named Mr. Brownstone played Luther’s Blues in Madison, and it went down as one of the more epic nights in Madison music history (meaning my friends all got really drunk and craziness ensued). They actually went on to see Mr. Brownstone two more times before, sadly, the band broke up. (I blame Yoko.)

So it was exciting news that Paradise City was coming to town – and with a Bon Jovi tribute band as the opener, to boot. My friend Jay, an off the charts GnR fan, dusted off his sleeveless “Appetite for Destruction” shirt and rallied everyone in the Capitol to attend. After all, the Paradise City website proclaims they’re the “nation’s #1 Guns n’ Roses tribute.” As if there were some objective standard by which tribute bands are measured – like somehow, if your fake Slash’s top hat isn’t big enough, you get bumped to #3.

A while ago, I had read Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” which contains an amusing chapter documenting life on the road with a Guns n’ Roses tribute band. It talks about how shallow of a life these bands lead by driving around the country in a van pretending to be someone else. But tribute bands quickly learned that people are more willing to pay $10 to go see songs they already know by fake celebrities than $5 to see original songs by real beginning bands. Before the show, I went back and looked that chapter up, and lo and behold, the band in the book was called Paradise City. So that added even more excitement for me, given that I thought I knew a little bit about these guys.

I got to the bar at about seven o’clock, as the band was warming up. And they were taking themselves deadly seriously – no note or verse went unchecked. It was like they were warming up to play the Grammys or something. But then I realized an important fact for the night – while we were led to believe that there would be an opening band, it appeared that the Bon Jovi and GnR tribute bands were the same band! That’s right, they would come out dressed as one band, then go back to the dressing room, change, and come out as the other. It’s brilliant – you get paid for two shows.

As show time neared, it became evident that the crowd consisted entirely of people who hang out at the Club Tavern anyway. Everyone knew each other, and we were clearly interlopers. It didn’t seem like the explosive entertainment potential of Paradise City had really brought anyone out other than me and my friends. The women there made sure every tattoo they invested their hard earned infant formula money in was visible. Clearly, shoulder tattoos outnumbered college degrees by at least three to one. There was a fast-spreading rumor that a boob may have escaped the shirt of one scantily clad woman while she was dancing, but upon further investigation, the rumor was never substantiated.

The band eventually came out, and to everyone’s surprise, they started as Guns n’ Roses. This chapped my friend Jay’s ass. He pointed out that on no planet in the universe would Guns n’ Roses be opening for Bon Jovi. So there was one strike against Paradise City right there. I also noticed that there’s no way these guys were the same guys in Klosterman’s book. In the book, the band took pride in not wearing wigs and living the whole GnR lifestyle (except on about $10 a day). These guys were wearing wigs and playing Bon Jovi songs. I’m guessing there’s probably a dozen bands out there called “Paradise City” that move around under the radar playing shows, rocking dentally-challenged bars from coast to coast.

About 20 minutes in to the show, someone noticed that “Slash” was holding a cigarette in the same hand he was picking his guitar with. Jay leaned over to me and said, “see, that’s how you get to be America’s number one GnR tribute band.” Point well taken. In the interest of accuracy, he wondered if a Def Leppard tribute band could ever make it to number one without a drummer with one arm.

Later on, it was observed that the fake “Izzy” kept his cigarette in the fret board of his guitar when not smoking it. My friend Dave pointed out that that right there is an argument against smoking bans – just so guitarists can do cool stuff while smoking in bars.

After finishing up with their rendition of “Paradise City,” the band took a break to go become Bon Jovi. When they came out and started playing, it was determined that the lead singer was a much better Jon Bon Jovi than he was an Axl Rose. At one point, fully in character, “Jon Bon Jovi” told everyone to clap for the opening band. Who, of course, was them. Dead serious.

In the middle of the set, the singer yelled out “HOW YOU DOIN’ MADISON!!!” At that point, a reserved young man walked over to the stage and told “Jon” that we were actually in Middleton. There was an extended awkward pause, then “Jon” picked up the microphone and screeched “MIDDLETON!!!!!!”

I am not a Bon Jovi fan, and the only songs I know of theirs are from “Slippery When Wet.” So I kind of mingled and observed the crowd. There was one woman who we pegged at 99% as a former stripper, as her dancing alone probably gave everyone in the bar an STD. You just know this woman has served as a human trampoline for the men of Middleton, where everyone gets a turn. Kind of sad, really.

Earlier in the night, I had told Jay that I was going to be on “Here and Now” today talking about universal health care. When “Bad Medicine” came on, he told me I should just go on TV and do an a capella rendition of that song, and that all the viewers would understand the point. And I think he’s right.

“Bon Jovi” finished of the set with “Livin’ on a Prayer,” then left the stage to chants of “one more song!” Ignoring the convincing argument put forward by the two chanters, they ducked back into their dressing room. Many bar patrons left. But then, about five minutes later, they emerged and headed to the bar. Jay went over to “Jon/Axl” to plead for another song. When he began talking to the singer, the guy just turned his back on Jay and walked away. I mean, how awesome is it to get completely blown off by some crappy celebrity impersonator? I almost burst my spleen laughing so hard.

But then, the band took the stage again. It appeared that he may have just ignored Jay because he didn’t want to spoil the “surprise.” But when they got back up there, they weren’t in their costumes – nobody really knew what to make of them. They just became some kind of amalgam of ‘80s bands, playing songs ranging from Skynrd to Ratt. They finished off their 6 song encore by once again playing “Welcome to the Jungle,” to the delight of everyone.

The lesson here is, that one person can do anything if they put their mind to it. Under adverse conditions, Jay put his mind to having that band play an encore, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t make it happen. Goes to show that the strength and determination do pay off. Imagine what would happen if he set out to end world hunger.

Our night having climaxed, we all headed home at 1:00 AM, our hunger for faux-rock satisfied. The real world intruded in my life at 6 AM, when my daughter woke me up by poking me in the face with a stuffed frog. Somehow, rock just isn’t what it used to be.


Here's a video-phone clip of "Sweet Child O' Mine," released 20 years ago this year. The sound is terrible (you can barely hear the music), but it gives you a glimpse at the genius of Paradise City.


Discovered at the High Noon Saloon website:

Sat. October 27, The High Noon Saloon presents:
High Noon Halloween Party
Mr. Brownstone
10:00 PM / $tba cover 21 AND UP