Watching a film about tribute bands may sound like a horrifying prospect to many, but as with any potentially cringe-inducing sight, the seemingly cheesy/campy idea does hold a strange fascination. That oddball allure may be what initially draws one to Kris Curry and Rich Fox’s “Tribute,” but the craft and infectious energy of this “rockumentary” are what ultimately leave audiences satisfied.
In a compact 90 minutes, Fox and Curry cover no less than five bands: Larger Than Life (a tribute to KIss), Bloodstone (Judas Priest), Sheer Heart Attack (Queen), The Missing Links (The Monkees), and Escape (Journey). For the most part, the directors are able to spread the focus evenly across the groups, the major exception being Escape, who are only prominently featured at the beginning and end. One of their segments, however, offers one of the film’s biggest laughs. As the Steve Perry stand-in belts out the classic power ballad “Faithfully” in concert, the camera slowly pulls away to reveal the exact location of the gig: a strip club.
Contrary to what one may expect, the many laughs in “Tribute” come from moments like that one, which don’t necessarily come at the expense of the groups themselves. In fact, none of the groups seen here embarrass themselves, doing their idols proud not only by delivering lively performances but also through their careful attention to detail–even when it gets painful, as a couple of tight costume squeezes by lead singers in Larger Than Life and Sheer Heart Attack illustrate. That mostly everyone featured has a healthy sense of humor about what they do makes “Tribute”‘s subjects very likable and real people.
And make no mistake, this is a film about the people, with their musical interests being just one part of who they are; this is no “Trekkies”-like documentary that simply zeroes in on the obsession and before long becomes more than a little redundant and hence tiresome. Scenes of the bands performing in concert are actually outnumbered by those following them offstage, whether in situations directly related to music or not. While much humor emerges from these sequences–such as when a ridiculously hyperactive Larger Than Life hopeful auditions for the band, or when Bloodstone lead singer Jeff Richards attempts to talk to his wife about band business while his kids constantly act up–more important and memorable is the intimate personal insight. Particularly affecting is the story of Bloodstone member Rich Sorensen, who discusses his higher musical aspirations at his tedious job at a tire shop. The human dimension to “Tribute” is exactly that–warts and all, and some drama arises within the ranks of a few of the groups: two bands must deal with the sudden departures of their lead singers while another suffers a most acrimonious bust-up.
While events do occasionally take more serious turns, Curry and Fox never lose sight of why these people go to such expense to take to the stage as their rock-‘n-roll idols: the sheer joy of it all. “Tribute” is a salute to the passionate dedication of those who work so hard to share that feeling with their audiences, and much like its subjects, the film brings a strong taste of that euphoric rush to its viewers. The average moviegoer may not necessarily leave the film quite as enthusiastic as the Queen/Sheer Heart Attack “superfan” featured in one of the film’s most amusing sections, or even the less obsessive but still hard-rocking “heavy metal mailman,” but one certainly comes away not only understanding but also sharing at least part of their excitement after watching this wildly enjoyable film.