Like them or not, tribute bands are here to stay.  Despite the fact that every one of the half a dozen tribute bands I have seen has been nothing short of excellent, I still harbor a slight feeling of apprehension whenever I go to see one – that sense of “not the real thing” is hard to shake.

The Classic Rock Show are a kind of meta tribute band; a live version of the jukebox in that pub that you used to hang out in back in 1978 where everyone wore Led Zeppelin tee shirts, biker boots and black leather jackets.  That pub is probably long gone, replaced by some hipster joint selling overpriced gin cocktails and craft beers but the music from the jukebox has lived on and the sell out audience are here tonight to relive those hairier days even if many of them aren’t old enough to have been there first time round.

The nine-piece band hit the ground running with Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love.  The twin guitars of James Cole and Howie G, with Wayne Banks on bass, Karl Penney on drums and Henry Burnett on keyboards provide a solid, supple backing for vocalist Chris Ousey.  Jess Harwood, Johnny West and Alex East provide backing vocals but they all take a turn in the lead vocal spotlight at various points during the show.

Ousey has a terrific rock voice, great for Zep, Deep Purple’s Highway Star and Van Halen’s Jump but his American accent sits less comfortably with The Beatles’ Helter Skelter or Supertramp’s Logical Song.  Johnny West nails Springsteen’s Jungleland, featuring some truly impressive saxophone playing from Alex East, and Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell.

When not playing in The Classic Rock Show, Alex East fronts Bowie Tribute band Live On Mars.  Naturally, he shines on Bowie numbers Moonage Daydream and Lets Dance and it’s amazing to see how he moves from anonymous backing vocalist to inhabiting Bowie’s persona purely through a tilt of his head, the set of his mouth and a glint in his eye.

East isn’t the only tribute band veteran in the band.  Jess Harwood sings Stevie Nicks’ parts in the excellent Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac.  It is no surprise then that her version of Nicks’ and Tom Petty’s Stop Draggin My Heart Around and Fleetwood Mac’s landslide are spot on.

The Classic Rock Show is, however, not just about the band.  I have every one of the songs played tonight in my record collection but I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as a classic rock guy.  The power of a crunchy riff or a soaring solo to excite tonight’s audience cannot be underestimated though.  During Heart’s Alone, a man near to me suddenly rises to his feet, eyes closed, swaying beatifically with one arm raised, totally transported by the song.  Up in the balcony, air guitars and invisible drums are thrashed at regular intervals.  And while it would be easy to be cynical about all of this, it’s impossible not to fall under the spell of Parisienne Walkways or Highway To Hell, no matter how many times you may have heard them before.

The show comes to a climax with Lynryd  Skynyrd’s Freebird, during which James Cole and Howie G take a walk round the hall while soloing furiously.  Encores of the Joe Cocker version of With A Little Help From My Friends with a terrific vocal from Alex East, suggesting that he is perhaps a little underused as a lead vocalist, and The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again Bring thing to a close.  As I turn to leave, a man behind me is keen to find out if I enjoyed the show; he is here for the fifth time with his wife and grown-up daughter and is already looking forward to the next time.   Clearly, it’s not called The Classic Rock Show for nothing.

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