Better Than the Real Thing? (U2 Tribute Series Part 5)
An interview with Elevation
September 26, 2002 Jo
Whitby and Khoa Tran
a fairly new formation, having been together since December of
2001, the Toronto area-based Elevation is the "official" tribute
band for the U2 GTA (Greater Toronto Area) Fan Club. The band
plays quite regularly in the local club scene, in addition to
the occasional music festival and acoustic show. The band members
are busy musicians with day jobs, but we managed to catch up
with them to ask a few questions about themselves, as well as
the local tribute scene.
members of Elevation are:
Bono: Shawn Brady
The Edge: Kevin Strom
Adam: Mick Barnard
Larry: John Johnstone
made you decide to become a part of a U2 tribute group? Tell
us " The Elevation Story."
I moved to Toronto and wanted to start a band. After a quick
web search I noticed there were no U2 tributes in the area and
being a big U2 fan I saw this as a great opportunity. I sent
out a classified ad via the Internet and got several responses.
One was from John (current drummer) and a bass player named Paul
who had all of the sequencing equipment and knew John. Mick (current
bass player) also sent a reply but it was decided at that time
to go with Paul because he already knew John and had the sequencing
equipment which is key to U2's music. We tried SEVERAL "Edges" and
almost gave up, when finally Paul met a guitar player (Kevin)
at his work. Kevin rehearsed with us and he amazed us with his
ability and he sounded like the Edge so we had our first line
up. Since that time we have had two bass player changes but we
were very lucky to finally get Mick in the band in late May,
2002. We are now a tight, complete musical unit and more importantly
we all get along.
Now the story can be told...I've been a fan of U2 since seeing
them on the Boy tour (oops, giving my age away there) and I've
always fancied playing the music live. I first heard of Elevation
when Brady advertised for band members last summer, but didn't
get the job (the first bass player had sequencing gear -- I didn't).
My next contact came when this bass player left a few months
later. I dropped into a bar and had a chat with Kevin and Brady,
tried out two days later with the band and was gigging shortly
afterwards. My bass playing was diabolical but luckily I have
an English accent, as Adam does, so the job is mine; only Hugh
Grant can take it away from me.
Paul (our original bass player) answered an ad for a singer looking
to form a band. I also answered that ad. We jammed together and
we both agreed that the singer was not acceptable. I enjoyed
Paul's playing so I asked if he was interested in forming a band.
We had a hard time finding members until Shawn [Brady] answered
our ad for a singer. He was interested in forming a U2 tribute.
Paul and I were very interested. At the audition Shawn and I
really hit it off. After a series of auditions we found Kevin.
you have a favourite U2 era/period? Do you "play the band" in
different eras? Why or why not?
Joining this group not knowing too much about U2 I can only say
from what I first knew of U2 and that was the Joshua Tree era.
That will always be my favorite. Now that I'm exposed to all
eras I kind of like them all, although I seem to have this desire
to play on a rooftop!!! Hmmm. I wonder why???
I like all eras and my favourite era will probably change quite
often. We cover U2 material spanning their entire career. The
great thing about covering U2 is the variety in their music and
visual presentation over the years -- they keep evolving which
makes being a tribute to U2 a very fun and challenging experience.
I really liked the Elevation tour. Keeping it simple, just good
rock n roll.
Zoo TV without a doubt! Achtung Baby just flat out rocks! Zooropa
was not without its moments, but cannot compare to the awesome
might of Achtung Baby...Great live stage concept as well. What
I like about Achtung Baby is the way they turned themselves on
their heads and upside down; it sounded nothing like a U2 album
to me at the time and still sounds as fresh and unexpected today
as it did then. In the '80s you could see how each album was
an evolutionary move on from the previous one; Achtung Baby is
the album that shot that idea out of the sky. I'm quite partial
to Pop as well, it's full of great songs which don't come across
that well until they're played live. The early years are fun,
but I don't feel the band got really interesting until the '90s.
On playing out the band's various eras, we are considering whether
there is any mileage in selecting different eras to base sets
round, and we'll see how that works out over the next few months.
do you choose which songs to play? Is it difficult to come
to a group consensus?
It would be nice to say that there's consensus, but the fact
of the matter is that Brady sends his selected set lists round
by email for comments and then turns his computer off until after
the gig. No, I'm just kidding. We try to bring new songs in as
often as we can to keep the set fresh both for us and for the
audience, plus we like the idea that we might surprise them with
something they haven't heard before. Obviously we are always
going to play "Streets" and one or two others, you
couldn't have a U2 gig without them, but we don't play "
Kite" or "Gloria" every night for example. The thing
is, even if we don't play a song one night, we might play it the
next, so everyone gets their way eventually.
Consensus is usually the method we use.
It really depends on the crowd. If it is an "average listener" crowd
we try and stick to the hits which have had videos or have been
played on radio. If we have some die hard fans in the audience
then we pull out some of the obscure stuff which is always fun
to perform. The band generally agrees on what to play -- we all
make compromises and if we disagree on a set list arrangement
or what songs we should add to our repertoire we talk it through
and come to a reasonable solution.
it hard to reproduce certain sounds and effects? How do you
combat these difficulties?
In my opinion the Edge is the most intimidating guitarist out
there not so much because of his ability but because of his sounds
and effects. Where could you possibly begin?? He has more gear
than a music store, and the scary part is he uses most of it
live! Nobody will ever reproduce his "tone" however
a couple key things to his sounds are his EQ and most importantly
his delay! I invested in the Line 6 Pod Pro, and that is great
for different sounding amps and tones. The effects aren't the
greatest but they do a pretty good job and get the point across.
From Bono's standpoint I have a wireless mic which helps with
the audience interaction. Bono's earlier vocal sound is quite
wet sounding so I try and have the soundman on duty to rig up
an appropriate vocal sound. I play harmonica and guitar on the
certain songs to add authenticity. I am also responsible for
the keyboard sequencing and it initially took a ton of work to
get all of the keyboard backing tracks/string arrangements to
sound authentic. I think I have the hang of it now though and
I would say our pre-programmed keyboard tracks sound extremely
close to the real U2.
Early U2 is no problem. Some of Larry's drums sounds are difficult
to produce with a standard drum kit. I listen to live tapes and
see how Larry approached those songs.
Warning: non-musicians may not want to read this paragraph. Adam
Clayton is a fine bass player, but he does not use a huge range
of effects and his playing, especially these days, tends to hover
around root notes. (If you don't believe me, contrast his simple,
direct playing on the recent Boston DVD with his playing on,
say, the video of Under a Blood Red Sky, during which he seems
to use every bass playing technique known to man, plus some not.)
I think his playing has really matured, especially his right
hand technique, over the last ten years and he is a much better
bassist for it. I use a Fender Jazz through an Ashdown head,
as he does, and I generally use a pick when he does and so on,
so I have that part of his sound down nicely. The main problem
I have is trying to capture his Moog Taurus bass pedal sound;
the Ashdown has a sub-harmoniser on it which does a very credible
imitation but I would like to get my hands (or, more accurately,
my feet) on a set of bass pedals to get the full earth-shaking
frequently do you perform and at what sort of venue do you
We play just about every weekend, at least once, sometimes two
or three times. It's mainly pubs, clubs and that kind of thing,
from the tiny to the outdoor, though we're prepared to play pretty
much anywhere we don't need injections to get to. Have minivan,
will travel. That's our motto.
We play mostly bars/clubs/Irish pubs right now, with some outdoor
shows and halls under our belt as well. We all have full time
careers so touring isn't really possible.
U2 songs do you enjoy playing live? Are there any that you
tend to avoid?
I love "Bad" -- it is my favourite live song -- if
I am feeling "
saucy" I even strip down to suspenders a la Rattle and Hum
version of "
Bad." I also really enjoy "Streets" and "Unforgettable
Fire." We avoid too many slow songs in a set to keep things
flowing. We have also sort of neglected some of the PopMart era
songs (which U2 also did on the Elevation tour), mainly because
the average listener may not recognize them. However, we are planning
to add some new PopMart material into our set shortly.
Kevin: "Streets" is
my favorite song to play live along with "
Beautiful Day." Those two seem to get the biggest crowd reaction. "
Hold Me, Thrill Me" is just a great rock tune, and "Mysterious
Ways" gets me going with its dance groove.
I particuarly like playing "Unforgettable Fire," "Hold
Me, Thrill Me," "Bad" and one or two others. The
only song we know that we haven't played at all (except last
week in rehearsal) is "Exit." For some reason we haven't
included it yet, maybe one day.
I love playing "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," "Walk
On," "Until the End of the World," [and] "Beautiful
Day." I can honestly say there aren't any songs I dislike.
you ever have any doubts about having a career as a tribute
I should point out that being in the tribute band is not a career
for any of us. It is an opportunity to play some great music,
have fun, meet great people and make a bit of extra money on
the side. I had doubts at two times: at the beginning when we
couldn't find the Edge -- thank goodness Kevin came along! I
also had doubts when Paul left and we no longer had any sequencing
capabilities. Can you imagine "
Streets" without the organ intro? Luckily I did some reading
and managed to take the sequencing on.
This is not a career for any of us. I'm a computer programmer.
We all have jobs, or are attending university.
I haven't got time for doubts, I'm too busy with family, job
and band. If you have time for doubts, you're slacking.
the local tribute band scene quite competitive?
Not really, there are a few bands that are a tribute to the same
act. It's competitive for them. It's not that competitive for
us yet. That doesn't stop us from pushing ourselves though.
Not really at the moment but it is an ever-changing market. There
are a couple of other U2 tributes in the area but we haven't
heard a whole lot about them. We are playing a lot right now
but that could change in an instant. We have been lucky to have
the great support of the Greater Toronto Area U2 fan club (U2
GTA) and this helps tremendously.
It may well be; we certainly are. We intend to crush every U2
tribute in Canada and the USA like bugs, you hear me? Like bugs!
do you enjoy most about being in a U2 tribute group?
Seeing the reaction of the crowd and getting satisfaction knowing
they are having a great time!!
Playing music I love with good friends and in front of people
who appreciate U2's music.
Playing the songs is obviously a pleasure in itself, and a good
audience is always a help, but the thing I like best is when
someone comes up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed
it. If they'll buy me a pint of Guinness into the bargain, the
evening is complete. Also all the lads in the band are great
guys, it's a blast hanging out with them after shows.
People come into the bar knowing what to expect. They are there
to see the band. I love seeing their faces when we start " Unforgettable
you normally get a good response from U2 fanatics?
Absolutely. We're grateful we have a great fan club in Toronto.
Yes, we do. The more fanatical the better actually.
Definitely! The U2 GTA group really makes our shows something
special...they add an element which makes it feel like a real
U2 concert. We also throw in some visual aspects to our show
which the die hard fans appreciate. We have our own belly dancer,
Jessica, during "Mysterious Ways," the "bull fight" during "Until
the End of the World," spotlight during "Bullet," etc.)
you had any response from the members of U2 themselves? If
so, what did they say?
Not yet, but I'm hoping that maybe when they do come to Toronto,
we get a chance to meet them.
Not yet, I'd love to have a pint with Adam and Larry
No response yet -- Bono if you are listening drop me an email
and I can let you know where to ship a nice pair of Bulgari sunglasses
-- after all, you do buy in bulk, right?
I haven't actually met any members of U2, but Bono's housekeeper
did once tell me that if I knocked on his door once more they'd
be calling the police. No, I'm just kidding. We'll probably try
and get them to pose with us for a Polaroid or something on their
next trip to Toronto.
are your plans for the future, as a band and as individual
I want to keep growing as a musician. I enjoy playing guitar
very much. (watch out Kevin and Edge). Mick: I'd like to keep
gigging and learning new songs for as long as we can...we've
come a long way in a relatively short time but we can always
improve and gigs will do that for a band. It would be interesting
to try and build the stage show up to include stuff like back-projections
and other assorted jiggery-pokery, but this costs money...it'll
come with time though. Kevin: I like the guys in the band and
I'm having a great time, so I hope we are around for a long time.
As far as the future, I'd like to play some gigs in the U.S.,
and just stay busy playing as often as possible. Individually
-- I'd like to be playing guitar full-time, and get into something
with music touring around the world. It's a lifelong dream.
I am very happy in this band and would like to do it for a long
time. Eventually we may branch off and do different things but
I would like to keep the band together in some form, maybe we
would just play less a few years down the road and only get together
for special gigs.
© @U2/Whitby/Tran, 2002.