I spent Sunday afternoon at a Tom Jones tribute concert at the Lakeside Little Theatre in San Juan Tlayacapan, the village next to my village in Mexico. The Lakeside Little Theatre is the oldest English language theater in Mexico and normally is the scene of drama and musicals. But this weekend about 3/4 of its 120 seats were filled for two Tom Jones tribute shows by the singer Nacho Granados and the Stargirls dance team.
The show was lots of fun, although, as anyone who reads this column regularly knows, Tom Jones is not exactly my first (or 10th) choice for a concert. But since my wife was co-producing and the newssite I edit was a sponsor, I had to be there. I am glad I was.
Nacho Granados is an excellent singer with a trained voice and the ability to not only fill a large auditorium with sound, but to intimately connect to his audience. And he does it without being grandiose. He manages to be larger than life while making you feel like he is singing just to you. A neat trick while strobes are going off, rotating spotlights are spiraling around the auditorium, and a huge screen is showing videos of Tom Jones concerts from the 70’s.
But it was a tribute show -not a knock off of what Jones did half a century ago. Nacho made that clear not only in his interchange with the audience, but with the design and direction of the choreography of the dancers, and the use of video to highlight Jones. While I’m definitely not nostalgic about the songs of the ’70s or the 80s, it was a pleasure to watch someone with a very good voice and a very well put together act even if it was based on Tom Jones. But the show brings up a question what’s the difference between a tribute and an imitator?
I asked Nacho as I drove him back to his hotel and he told me he would never try to be Tom Jones, but to transmit his music and spirit. My friend Militia Vox , the founder and lead singer and guitarist in the tribute band Judas Priestess, has told me something similar. There are many tribute bands out there – Peace Frog for the Doors, Bohemian Queen for Queen, E5c4p3 for Journey, Brit Floyd for Pink Floyd, and many more. People love them.
What they all have in common , besides being excellent musicians, is that none of them try to copy their favorite band, but to bring its songs to audiences with respect, reverence and fun. It would be hard for Militia Vox and her all girl crew to copy Judas Priest. But her live show audiences are packed with Judas Priest fans
The result is that you don’t walk away from a tribute concert feeling like you’ve been to a second class act, but you’ve been to a show in which very talented people brought back the time of Tom Jones or the Beatles or the Doors, and reminded you of just who they were and how talented they were.
Nacho did exactly that. I never listened to Tom Jones in the 70’s (not enough drugs), but Nacho entertained me and reminded me that, regardless of my tastes then or now, Jones could sing and make people happy. And I am mature enough now to appreciate both Nachco’s and Jones’s talent, and recognize that there is more to music than rock and pop, and Latin , and singer-songwriter, and country and the other genres I talk about here and in the Hot Half Dozen.
But imitators are a whole other topic. You know them when you see them. They try to copy the music, the moves, the costumes of their target. A lot of the people do Elvis resort to imitation, instead of recreating the time and the mood and feeling of The King. They are obsessed with getting the moves just right, getting the notes just right, getting the costumes just right; and they forget to get the soul of the music. And you do feel like you have been short changed after one of their concerts or recordings. Imitation is not homage; it is rip-off.
This what worries me about AI. You recall from last week’s column that I received a manual about using AI in Latin music. Fortunately, most of it was about creating videos, but not all. Many of the suggestions were imitative, not soulful. If you tell ChatGPT to write a Shakira or Bad Bunny or Rosalia or Selena tribute song, you will get, as I said last week, the Taco Bell of Latin music. Just like Elvis impersonators can’t recreate Elvis, AI can’t recreate, well, anyone. And whatever it cretes, it is not a tribute.
. Nacho Granados brought the soul and times of Tom Jones to life; Militia Vox brings the soul and times of Judas Priest to life. They practice a high art form and successfully walk a narrow path. It takes a tremendous amount of talent –musical and artistic and logistical – to bring back the feel of the sound of the 70’s or 80’s or even the 90’s without sounding embarrassing. Nacho did with a very tight, talented act that does honor to one of the people upon whose shoulders today’s musicians stand. Tom Jones, take him or leave him, was a star and sold millions of records. I enjoyed seeing tribute t paid to one the musicians who helped build the industry.
And it reminded me that I had sideburns like that in the 70’s.
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