An Under Cover Weekend brings mainstream appeal to an underground scene.
At first glance, you probably wouldn’t guess the unassuming guy in glasses is actually a local music powerhouse. Formerly of Gentleman Auction House, a since defunct national touring group, Mike Tomko has booked hundreds of acts for local music venues, and has been involved in some of the most well-respected and widely-known events on the underground music scene, including The Lot Music Festival, The Indie Rock Ice Cream Social and An Under Cover Weekend.
Now in its fifth year, Tomko’s brainchild, An Under Cover Weekend, is scheduled to once again rock the local music scene (this year at The Firebird) Sept. 9-10. The rules are simple: Local bands choose a pop music icon they’d like to tribute (no obscure Norwegian bands that your dad was really into in the ’60s; it must be a band with radio hits). After a grueling submission process, 10 bands are chosen, and the stage is set for one of the hottest cover shows in the region. In addition to selecting a band that has never been covered, an ever-growing list, the local talent must also decide to embody the band entirely and sing the songs note for note, or scrap everything they know and play the songs as if they’d written them themselves for the 30-minute set. According to Tomko, the latter is far less common. “It’s so much more than a cover; it’s a tribute,” he explains. “Bands really take on the persona of the groups they’re covering.”
Years past have brought everything from boa constrictors to Annie Lennox pixie cuts to The Cure fans moved to tears. A relatively underground local group, Fattback, was so successful as Huey Lewis and the News in 2008, they have since vowed never to play as them again. “The really cool thing was at the end of the night, people just couldn’t wait to see them as Fattback; they related to them as a cover, and now they can get to know them as individuals,” Tomko explains.
Don’t let the name fool you, An Under Cover Weekend isn’t undercover at all. Much to the contrary, it’s a come-one, come-all weekend that’s all about introducing great local talent to a new crowd that may have never heard of local rockers Troubadour Dali, but idolizes Sonic Youth. Tomko calls it magical; we call it just plain smart. “That’s a really neat bond you don’t usually get to make with a band; you see them singing the songs that are important to you,” he explains.
A public challenge has been issued, St. Louis. Attend An Under Cover Weekend and try not to walk away with a renewed interest in the local music scene. We dare you.
See Union Tree Review cover Marvin Gaye at An Under Cover Weekend