I see it differently. I never got to see Elvis shake his hips in person, but through the magic of tribute artists I feel almost like I have. I certainly know that I’ve seen hundreds of happy faces in audiences, enjoying the chance to see a de facto Presley in person and that’s what’s important. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but for me Acts like AC/DCShe—an all female AC/DC cover band, or the ABBA mimics Björn Again or even MacSabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band in which all the members dress up as McDonald’s characters—are more than flattering their inspirations, they’re triggering happy, nostalgic memories and doing what live music is supposed to do, show people a good time.
A new documentary, “Almost Almost Famous,” has a look at The Class of ’59, a cover band featuring rockabilly musician Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis, R & B singer Bobby Brooks as Jackie Wilson and the “Elvis from Orlando”, Ted Torres. Set against the backdrop of the band on tour we learn about the dynamics of being on the road and discover why these artists chose the tribute act route rather than playing originals. For some it’s money, for some it’s for the love of being on stage and for one of them it’s a surprise tribute to a person they never met.
“Almost Almost Famous” doesn’t dig deep. We learn the backstories of the performers but only one of the characters, Bobby Brooks, has a history truly worthy of a feature (NO SPOILERS HERE) but director Barry Lank spends much time focussing on Lipinski, the terminally tired Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator.
He’s framed as the villain of the piece, a tribute artist who dismissively refers to his Class of ’59 gig as a day job. He’s always late, misses cues and is often less than inspired on stage. A talented singer and piano player, he has bigger things on his mind than aping sixty- year-old rock ‘n roll songs for an audience who stopped buying new music sometime around the time Elvis went into the army. Instead he wants to make neo-rockabilly for a younger crowd and it consumes his on and off stage moments. He’s a self-styled provocateur who wears an oversized Trump-Pence button on his lapel in interviews. Trouble is, he comes across as a one note, a brat, not a character you really want to spend time with.
Like the music it presents “Almost Almost Famous” doesn’t feel completely fresh but the peak behind the gold lame suits is interesting enough to keep tribute fans happy.