The devotion to a good, solid cover that is “as close to the original as possible” is a sanctified quest. To participate in or witness a true emulation of the original genius that produced the tune, to begin with, can be like stepping on holy ground for those who love such performance. The homage that the Lexington Lab Band (LLB) created and performed most flawlessly on November 5th in Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium was a Mecca of precise tributes to the original songs, and those who made the pilgrimage to the sold out concert were happy, happy pilgrims indeed. As one member of the crowd John Boyd commented, “If you shut your eyes, you think you’re hearing the original band.” That is the mission of the Lexington Lab Band, and folks, Mission Accomplished.
The original goal of the Lexington Lab Band was never to actually produce a live concert. The founding members came together three years ago to create online videos of the original core members performing their favorite covers with professional accuracy. “It’s an academic thing for me,” says Michael Vandemark, original member, vocalist and instrumentalist extraordinaire. The videos created by “Vandee,” as his fellow musicians lovingly call him, and bandmates Randy Refalo, Dale Adams, Rob Pottorf and Ryan McQuerry, have created a following for the band.
Listen to Cara’s conversation with Michael Vandemark:
The first concert in 2014 at The Lyric Theater almost happened by accident, Vandemark explains, as one former member, Derrick Breaux, was leaving the state and the live show was meant to be a fun send off with no expectation of filling the house.
It sold out.
So, two more annual concerts have followed, and the band has created not one but two groups of loyal followers, those who watch the videos online to study the tight precision with which the musicians and singers emulate the songs they are covering, and then those who come to the big yearly show. Often the two are not the same. At this month’s show, Vandemark asked the crowd to raise their hands if it was their first LLB concert, and over half the crowd responded.
And they sold it out again, this time in a venue with nearly double the capacity of the Lyric – Transy’s 1000 seat Haggin Auditorium.
The finale has become a legend at an LLB show, with all the musicians coming together on stage, nearly 30 total, to rock out a massive medley of songs by Bad Company, The Eagles, Heart, Journey and ended quite beautifully with a group tribute to Prince’s “Purple Rain.” It was a rocking, intense ending to a long amazing set that paid tribute to Boston, Huey Lewis, Bad Company, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, The Police, Pearl Jam, and Jimi Hendrix.
The night also included a worthy tribute to those artists we’ve lost this year: Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, David Bowie, Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, and of course, the fitting tribute to Prince at the end.
These are amazing songs to replicate; Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Boston. We all know these songs, but to really hear them, to know the effort it takes to replicate those guitar licks, those keys, the drumming and the backing harmonies, is most impressive.
At the pinnacle of it all is Vandemark himself, moving fluidly from lead guitar, to lead vocals, to keys, to bass. He never touched the drums, but he holds a degree in Percussion from Asbury. As Vandemark said of trying to bring in a wide variety of songs to cover, “To do this right, we’ve got to have the right people, every time…You’ve gotta have the right voice or the right guitar player… [and] be open to bringing the right people in, and…make it a project that celebrates as much of our friends as possible.”
And celebrate they did.
Such a feat could not be produced without drawing from an impressive collective of Lexington’s talent, with a few out of towner’s joining in for the fun. Several local bands are represented in the Lexington Lab Band, including the Twiggenburys, the Lauren Mink Band, The Throwbacks, Big River Band, Kung Fu Grip, Distraxions, Project 859 and Isle of Eight.
Perhaps the strongest backbone of the band in my humble opinion are the ladies: four women who sang with such tight, perfect harmony that they subtly stole the show.
Kaitlynne Postel, Amanda Carter, Lauren Mink and Jessica McKenney sang the backing vocals to a majority of the songs, and Mink rocked Stevie Nick’s “Landslide,” while McKenney sang Heart’s “Barracuda” so tightly it took my breath away. But the tightness in which they harmonized to all the other songs was phenomenal, truly.
There was a professional quality that guaranteed what McKenney, a singer at Southland Church, was hoping for: a “true note-to-note to the original.”
The effort made by the Lexington Lab Band and its many contributors, all the musicians, singers, film crew, and volunteers throughout the concert, is a labor of love. There is no profit, all the proceeds from the $27.00 tickets go to charity. The first concert supported the Lexington Area Music Alliance (LAMA). Proceeds from the second year went to a Refuge for Women. And this year Vandee brought the crowd to tears when he announced to the surprise of his cameraman and LLB co-founder, the man behind the online videos Neil Gregory, that they were donating all the proceeds to a charity for Autism, in honor of Neil’s daughter who has Autism. It was a beautiful moment, to see two friends bond over something so meaningful, to know so much good would come from something they do simply for the love of the music.
Mike Huff, the lead singer on the Aerosmith and Pearl Jam songs and a member of The Throwbacks, summed it up eloquently when speaking to me about how many people it takes to pull off such a huge show. More than fifty people had been at the auditorium since 9 am that morning rehearsing for their crowd with such devotion to the craft, “That’s what’s so great about it for me, everyone here just loves music.”
Listen to Cara’s conversation with Mike Huff: