Keith Williams had been a lifelong hard-rock fan—Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, that sort of thing. But he wasn’t particularly familiar with the music of Tool before he saw them play Madison Square Garden in 2001. The band’s complex musicianship and theater of the bizarre made quite an impression. “The entire evening, the singer was bent over in serpentigious [serpentine] position, very eerie. He has a spine tattoo down his back, and being a chiropractor by trade, I thought that was very original,” Williams recalls.
“I was sold,” he continues. “And I thought, ‘You will never, ever, see this in a bar, and I will be the first man to bring this to the masses, if I can [achieve] the level of musicianship required to get this done.'”
Two months later, Williams and his friends played their first gig as the Tool tribute band Schism. “It happened to be an R&B gig, and we show up, and we’re like, ‘We’re going to play Tool for you,'” Williams—who played guitar that evening—remembers over beer at the midtown sports bar Daltons. “And the funny thing is they really enjoyed it, and we weren’t even good! To see somebody who doesn’t know the material really enjoy the rhythms and the melodies—that’s when I knew this was a commercially viable item.”
That’s doubly true during Halloween weekend, what with so many audience members revved up to costume themselves and party. The city’s music venues will be stuffed with bands paying homage to their forbears (or, in some cases, their contemporaries), and Williams has organized a veritable tribute-show Lollapalooza for the Highline Ballroom on Friday night. The bill will include sets by the homage acts No Code (performing the music of Pearl Jam), Facelift (taking on Alice In Chains’ catalog), and The Battle of Los Angeles (on Rage Against the Machine duties for the evening).
Maybe you’re psyched about this. Maybe you’re dubious. They understand.
“I would have made fun of our band if I wasn’t in it,” says Christian Alcantara, 33, frontman for Battle of Los Angeles. A former music-biz employee who’s now a marketing executive (and longtime Rage fanatic), Alcantara got indignant when he spotted a Craigslist ad for a Rage cover band. Then he got curious.
“I kept making fun of it to myself, and eventually I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to reach out to them and play with them for a little while until my other band gets going again or I find a really good fucking hardcore band.'” He has been with Battle for five years, and though his long-term plans have changed (“I’m not 21 anymore; I can’t just go and start a new band”) he’s proud of his current gig for reasons that go beyond its ability to showcase his chops.
“I feel like I wouldn’t be the kind of person I am now if it were not for those lyrics. . . . I’m definitely not a communist or socialist by any means, but I’ve been down to Occupy Wall Street a couple of times,” he says of the politically charged source material.
That seriousness extends to his attitude toward the music itself. “Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of tribute bands out there that don’t study what I study, that don’t go through hours of bootleg tapes and YouTubes and don’t try to get into what [Rage singer Zack De La Rocha] was really thinking in a live show,” he says.
Williams has spent a decade splitting his time between his medical practice and his musical endeavors, which in addition to Schism include some pro songwriting gigs. He loves the band’s biology-obsessed, gleefully weird visuals as much as their music, so he’s making sure to “take it up a notch” for the Halloween gig.
“We have a couple of female dancers, a violinist from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, contortionists, and two people hanging from hooks by their backs,” he boasts, noting that he will bring his own airbrush artist, so he can replicate the stage makeup exactly. “I bring something to the table every time we do a show like this.”
Tribute Wars 50 is at Highline Ballroom on October 28