Halloween is a funky time of year for local bands. It often involves doing something obligatory, like throwing spooky-themed gigs, or covering "Monster Mash" with the whole band dressed up as zombies or something. Sure, it's fun, but it's also pretty repetitive. So when the Wayfarer's talent buyer Eric Keilman had a shot to change things up this year, the requirement for band's playing the two-night Tricks and Treats series was to breath new life into the work of rock'n'roll royalty.
On October 28 and 29th, OC acts like Big Monsta, Purple Mountain Majesties, and Robert Jon and the Wreck will inhabit the souls and the sounds of Nirvana, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Harry Nilsson. Each night, three local acts are assigned to cover a famous band. Keilman says the idea was largely inspired by tribute band nights at LA clubs like The Satellite that does something similar with full night dedicated to covering one artist.
"You never know what band's are into unless they throw a cover out there and you're like 'Woah, where'd that come from?' And it's kind of like an opening to a conversation about music and mutual for certain bands."
For a band like Robert Jon and the Wreck, assigned to cover Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the gig is a welcome departure from their Southern Rock roots.
"We wanted to do it the minute we heard about it," says frontman Robert Jon Burrison. "It gives us a different line of stuff to work on instead of just our own songs. It's a creative, fun break." It's also a good chance to get people who might only know a few Tom Petty standards to hear some solid gold deep tracks and songs that aren't normally associated with the rock-n-roll legend. It's almost like getting people who don't listen to Tom Petty into Tom Petty," Burrison says. For Night 1, they'll be sharing the stage with the trio James, Ditt and Trout (covering Jimi Hendrix) and Professor Colombo (covering songs off The Black Keys' Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory).
On Night 2, you've got Big Monsta, who are already known for covering a smattering of Nirvana when they play live. But a show like this forces them to raise their game a few notches. For their cover set they've chosen a cross section of songs from Bleached, Nevermind, In Utero and various bootlegs to create a set befitting the kings of Seattle grunge.
"The most daunting part was trying to reach Kurt Cobain's vocal range because he had such a ridiculous range," says vocalist and lead guitarist Jimmy Hua. "We actually wound up tuning our guitars down to B standard instead of E standard. Even then, I dunno how he did it. Trying to emulate the man himself is very interesting."
The band took a month and a half to learn the songs and now are doing a full rehearsal to find out which songs gel the best to make the final set list. That even includes a couple covers Nirvana did for their iconic MTV Unplugged show in 1993. That night, their comrades Purple Mountains Majesties and The Bluffs will tackle songs from Harry Nilsson and the Beatles respectively.
Despite the fun nature of riffing on the legacy of rock stars, Keilman says all the bands are taking it very seriously. Recently Purple Mountains Majesty has been letting the promoter in on all the extra sounds like horns and cello in an effort to recreate Henry Nilsson's baroque, often psychedelic pop sound. "They know that Harry Nilsson didn't play a whole lot of shows for people so they really want to try to recreate that and they're like 'ah we're trying this one part out and it's so hard but we're getting through it. Every time I talk to these [bands] they're all talking about hard they're working on getting the sets together and doing a good job with it."
The two-night Tricks and Treats series features Robert Jon and the Wreck, James, Ditt and Trout, Professor Colombo, Big Monsta, Purple Mountains Majesties and The Bluffs at The Wayfarer, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 764-0039, www.wayfarercm.com. Oct. 28-29, 8 p.m. $5-7. 21+.