by Harry Parmenter
I’m not sure how I feel about tribute bands. On the one hand, if you saw the original live you’re thinking, “Well, it’s not the real thing.” On the other hand, if you never saw the original you’re thinking, “Well maybe it’s kinda like the real thing.” If they’re good. If they’re not, you’re thinking something else entirely.
AC/DC sold more records than any hard rock band, excluding Led Zeppelin, whose extremely eclectic body of work had a large swath of Celtic, acoustic-driven folk songs, some of which you might call “ballads.” AC/DC never did a ballad. EVER. Many critics say all their albums are the same. However, there’s “High Voltage” and there’s “Fly On The Wall.” Their records are not all the same.
Bonfire pays tribute to the original AC/DC: The brothers Angus and Malcolm Young on guitars, Mark Evans slash Cliff Williams bass, Phil Rudd drums, Bon Scott, the brilliant first singer in the band. Malcolm died last year, weeks after his big brother George, the architect of the band. A few months before that, Rudd was arrested on murder for hire charges. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, indeed. Scott died of alcohol poisoning in 1980, just after the release of “Highway to Hell,” the album (and single) that broke AC/DC around the world, big. Bon died like Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin. Pointlessly, recklessly, rock ‘n’ roll-y.
The album that preceded “Highway to Hell,” “Powerage,” is The Document for many AC/DC fans, myself included, not to mention Keith Richards. The album that followed it, “Back in Black,” an homage to Scott, introduced Bon’s replacement, Brian Johnson. It sold 22 million copies. Girls liked “You Shook Me All Night Long.” They became a phenomenon. Sports arenas spanning the globe still crank AC/DC to stir the crowd.
Bonfire is loud, tight and smart. If you never saw the Bon Scott version of AC/DC, you will dig them. If you did, you will still dig them. I emailed with Sean Mulvihill, the band’s lead singer. He’s been at this a long time. I wanted to find out why.
Why do tribute bands exist?
Mulvihill: Because they are entertaining. People seem to like seeing their favorite songs recreated live, in the style of the original band. Elvis impersonators have been doing it for decades. And like Elvis acts, the fun is in the exaggeration. The first time I saw a tribute band I was laughing at the over-the-top inside joke of the whole thing.
Mulvihill: AC/DC (is) a top act, and if you’re going to get gigs, you’d better pick a top band, not to mention it’s powerful music that is an absolute blast to play live. For me, it’s also that I happen to look and sound a little like Bon, and I really love the guy.
Tell me about the first time you heard their music.
Mulvihill: Don’t remember the first time I heard them but I do remember when I became obsessed with them. I was dating a girl who had a real piece of junk old Pinto that had an amazing stereo. When she bought it there was a cassette of the “High Voltage” album in the tape deck. I wore that tape out, just couldn’t imagine where all that power was coming from.
What makes a good tribute band versus a lousy one?
Mulvihill: Good musicians first, but after that for me it’s about the attitude. I mean, the whole thing has to be done with a wink, if you take my meaning.
Do all the guys in the band consciously try to imitate not only the music, but the stage presence and movements of the original?
Mulvihill: Not necessarily, I’m involved with some other bands in Europe where they are laser focused on the correct gear, outfits, movements, stage show, etc., and that’s really cool, but Bonfire is more about the energy of AC/DC when they were playing little clubs. You know, the sweat and blood and sex of those early years. That’s kind of where we’re at.
What do guys in a tribute band do for day jobs?
Mulvihill: Ha, you name it. Some tributes are so big that they’ve quit they’re day jobs, but most still do whatever they did before they joined a tribute.
What makes Bonfire a good night out?
Mulvihill: We’re a good band having a good time on stage and I think that comes across to the crowd. We work our asses off and the guys are all top notch musicians on top of that. You know how it is, if you go see your favorite band they aren’t gonna sound like the album, but if you see a tribute and they don’t sound exactly like the album you’ll say they suck. Well we try really hard to recreate the sound you hear in your head. Come see us, you’ll see, and you’ll have a good time.