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Commentary and photos by Jeff Rey
Copyright 2003 NEON, blue door productions
Unforgiven's Chris Schweitzer doesn’t attempt to be a dead-ringer of James Hetfield, but he most certainly captures his spirit
UNFORGIVEN's George Avery, Marc Bogino, Chris Schweitzer (above) and Al Cannabush on bass (left)

Tribute Bands:
When I recently met up with the guys in Unforgiven I got that same vibe of unadulterated excitement over the music they were doing. Not only do they know this music inside out, they love it, too. And it shows. Chris Schweitzer doesn’t attempt to be a dead-ringer of James Hetfield but he most certainly captures his spirit. As does all of Unforgiven recreate the essence of their inspiration. They don’t do a note for note spitback of Metallica’s most well-known songs, but by doing album versions of the band’s material with unbridled abandon they take you to that place where Metallica resides. Schweitzer is joined on guitar by Marc Bogino who’s Flying V was wailing on this night. Al Cannabush provided the thundering bass that underscored it all, but maybe the hardest job falls to drummer George Avery who must achieve both the kick-ass power and dynamic subtlety that are the trademarks of Lars Ulrich. No problem. In all fairness, George may have a slight edge since at around 6’7” he has about a foot on Lars and many more pounds to put an added jolt behind all that power. They played all the songs Metallica fans would want to hear, but highlights of the night were a particularly nasty version of “Seek & Destroy” and one of my favorites “Wherever I May Roam.” You get the feeling that Unforgiven would be a great band no matter what they were playing – not something you can say about a lot of tribute bands.
Name a group and there’s probably a tribute band out there for them. Think what you like, but in these days of still soaring concert prices and many of rock’s most popular bands either no longer active, or sitting out the woeful economic climate – tribute bands provide an alternative fix for cash strapped fans eager to hear the music of their rock ‘n roll heroes. And they cater to a vastly different audience than bands looking for a following from a fan base of those that are into original music. Some tribute bands that play in the New York City area like Kiss Nation have the total look and sound together, complete with a mini-version of an extravagant arena set-up. Others like Amorica, who cover the Black Crowes, don’t attempt to either look like their subject or recreate their arena concerts, but instead do club sets of their most well known songs. (To my ears, they don’t sound much like the Black Crowes I remember seeing in small venues like the Cat Club and CBGB in their early days.) Some, like Bad Medicine, a Bon Jovi tribute band, manage to sneak in their own originals to showcase their own talent, or lack thereof. You really can’t have it both ways. But others, like Metallica tribute band Unforgiven, have caught  lightning in a bottle and recreate the essence of a band.
I had met Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield in the early 90s. I was with my NEON partner Lorry Doll at the after-party following a ZZ Top show at Madison Square Garden. We had had a short confab with axe man Billy Gibbons (I’ve always admired and had blatantly “borrowed” licks from him). We met the rest of the band as well as a few other celebs who were putting in an appearance. And we had gone through the meet & greet thing with numerous press agents, A&R folk and other record company types who were hyping their latest star of the moment. So it was time to repair to the main bar, catch our breath for a while and take a look at the ballgame on the overhead TV.
Lars and James came in, stood next to Lorry, got a couple drinks and became animated over the Yankee game. Lorry leaned over, told the guys her Wade Boggs story (don’t ask), followed by an attempt at an impromptu NEON interview. Well what we really did was share a few (too many) drinks, talked some baseball and quite a bit more about music. I had only recently become a Metallica fan (the self-titled black album – a metal masterpiece – sold me). But, we had just interviewed Metallica biographer Chris Crocker and knew quite a bit about the band’s history. They were basically a self-made band who had plugged away for a long, long time before they finally “made it”. And at the moment, Metallica was reaching its apex. The black album had been an overwhelming commercial success and was being critically acclaimed across the board. They were on the current cover of almost every rock magazine in the world and even the staid New York Times had featured them on the front of their Sunday supplement. They were in New York that night taking a break from their long series of sold out arena shows. Yet as huge as the band was at that moment in time, Lars and James were still down to earth and regular guys. And what really got me is how genuinely excited and enthusiastic they still were about not only their own music, but about the whole metal and hard rock scene. A refreshing contrast to the jaded attitude of the industry people we had been schmoozing with that night.