IT'S A NIGHT of cover songs, but one that requires a little explaining. The concept is this: Five bands tackle the music of seven different cities, paying tribute to each of those cities' unique music scenes. Local musicians like Sean Croghan, Jim Brunberg, Nathan Jr., and more have all organized bands—in some cases, one-off bands specifically for this night—each of which will tackle one of the following metropolises: New York City, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Sydney, Australia.
This night is the most recent in a series of free covers nights presented by Pabst Blue Ribbon, and part of the fun is the total crapshoot they offer. PBR sales rep Matt Slessler—music aficionado, occasional Mercury contributor, and all-around great guy—is the organizer, and he's geared covers nights around specific performers in the past, including Elvis Costello, David Bowie, and the Clash. He's also spearheaded a show of songs solely from the year 1984, and another that covered the entire 1970s, with each band tackling a specific calendar year.
"Every time we do one of these shows, literally right before the show, it comes up, 'So, what's gonna be the next one?'" Slessler says. "And the two themes that kept coming up were movie soundtracks—which I think would be a good one—and this."
But what songs will be played remains a surprise. Even Slessler doesn't know what the bands are going to pull out. "I have no idea. If you do New York, which direction do you go with it? San Francisco, even, you could take a million different ways."
Obviously, New York and London both offer an abundance of choices—in New York's case, ranging from obvious picks like the Velvet Underground to Television, to pre-rock doo-wop and Tin Pan Alley, all the way up to Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, the Strokes, and beyond. And London is practically representative of the UK's musical history, from the Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols to the Police to Blur.
The dark horses are Philadelphia, which has a rich heritage of soul and R&B but relatively little rock, and Sydney, Australia, which could include AC/DC, INXS, or (I'm hoping) the Easybeats. Seattle will most certainly include some grunge classics, while San Francisco could have Jefferson Airplane, Journey, or Metallica.
When PBR did a '70s show, musician Chris Robley took 1971, performing Pink Floyd's "One of These Days," Nilsson's "Without You," and Jethro Tull's "Cross-Eyed Mary"—a diverse group of songs, to say the least. Robley nailed all of them. "He's living in Maine right now and this is the only time he could do the show," Slessler says. "We're doing this show around Chris Robley's time schedule, because I just had to have him play."
This time Robley performs songs from Los Angeles, which could mean the punk scene of the mid- to late-'70s, including X and the Germs; there's the hardcore scene that developed just outside of LA, with Black Flag and the Circle Jerks; there's the Sunset Strip hair metal scene, with bands like Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe. But there's also the music of the '60s, including bands like Love, the Byrds, and the Doors—not to mention the Beach Boys—and the Topanga and Laurel Canyon scene that followed shortly thereafter. And there's the gangsta rap that epitomized the '90s, or more recent Silver Lake indie rock.
The one city that Slessler initially had his heart set on including was Minneapolis, home to the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Prince, and early Soul Asylum. Unfortunately, nobody picked up the ball, although the possibility of doing a future night dedicated solely to the Twin Cities is not out of the question. Slessler's not disappointed at all. "There are times when I want to step in and curate it more," he says, "but they're the talented ones, so I just trust them. And nobody's let me down."