Party bars and cover bands

There are many varieties of drinking establishments in the greater Sacramento area that feature live music, but for the sake of argument, we shall momentarily break them down into two general classes. The first is most easily defined by the type of acts it books: bands performing original music. Generally, Sacramento venues of this type book shows on weekends only, filling in the rest of the week with a variety of “filler material” in the same way that television stations fill their days with programming to make the best of a dire schedule, waiting all the while for that one money-making hit show to spin back around on the weekly calendar and pay the executives’ salaries for the remainder of the year.

The second variety is what we will call “party bars.” These are grog houses that book shows for the primary purpose of entertaining their patrons, most often with bands performing live covers of popular rock tunes. The beer flows, and the evening blurs into increasingly transparent displays of libido. Party bars will book live music every night of the week if they can find the bands to play.

During holiday weeks, the party bars are virtually the only place to find live music, particularly when the major holiday of the shopping year falls on a Saturday. So it was at the PowerHouse Pub in Folsom on the Wednesday before Christmas, where a surprisingly large audience watched Emerald City, Fear the Days and Godslap perform various metal and classic-rock covers.

Noteworthy during the evening’s festivities was the performance of Fear the Days, a band performing a long medley of Led Zeppelin covers sandwiched between a couple of original numbers. The group performed the Zeppelin quite well, particularly in terms of spot-on John Bonham drumming from the band’s drummer and lead vocalist, Cortney DeAugustine. The guitar playing was less effective, in large part because of an irritating buzz-saw guitar tone that is becoming a standard at metal shows and because of seemingly endless unaccompanied guitar solos. These are perhaps acceptable if one is a completely original, groundbreaking, genius guitarist, but they’re silly otherwise—particularly because they made the audience lose interest just when it seemed to be coming around.

I also found myself disappointed in the band’s original material, which seemed like strictly clichéd 1980s-era metal. I’m frankly surprised that people are still writing in this style, as it’s beginning to seem as retro as rockabilly and swing bands.

The most frustrating thing about watching a band like Fear the Days play is that, in many ways, it is quite good: very tight, motivated and excellent at entertaining the crowd. (Even if the crowd never quite picked up on it, the band itself did a great job of trying.) But, in the end, it seemed like squandered talent. Being good at playing covers is an invaluable skill—both in terms of musicianship and in terms of performance skills—but Fear the Days could be a great local band if it concentrated on creating its own sound rather than recreating sounds already pioneered by others. The talent is there; it’s time to focus it.

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