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Anyone can play guitar

The Twin Cities “bodysnatchers” of Just (A Radiohead Project) take on the songbook of modern rock’s demigods.
Just frontman Thom Fox naturally appears more blue-collard than rock star.
Image by Photo courtesy Kris Drake
Just frontman Thom Fox naturally appears more blue-collard than rock star.

What: Just (A Radiohead Project) and Rattle And Hum

When: March 3, 9 p.m.

Where: LeeâÄôs Liquor Lounge, 101 Glenwood Ave.

It sounds downright foolish to use the word ambition in regards to a cover band (or, perhaps tribute band is the socially correct nomenclature). It is a âÄúgenreâÄù that is characterized by the blue-collared individuals who play the back-in-my-day radio rock at small-town festivals throughout Middle America.

Not to mention transferring the adoration bound to another manâÄôs songwriting turns most projects into an art of piggybacking. But the musicians of Just (A Radiohead Project) drop the proverbial anvil on this notion, and it all starts with their concept.

These arenâÄôt the REO Speedwagon interpretations that bounce off the aluminum snack shacks of every State Fair. This also isnâÄôt the crowd-friendly meandering jam session that internationally successful Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra offer. This is Radiohead.

Somewhere between the rock âÄònâÄô roll mythology of their 1997 album, âÄúOK Computer,âÄù and the insular tracks of their follow-up, âÄúKid A,âÄù the British icons developed a sound that entirely relied on the specific gears of their well-oiled machine. From the manically somber presence of Thom YorkeâÄôs voice to the tension of guitarist Jonny GreenwoodâÄôs composition, their song catalogue does not welcome imitators.

So how did this group of Minneapolitans begin their sojourn into uncharted waters? It began the same place so many other things not meant for this world started: Craigslist.

âÄúNobody knew each other,âÄù guitarist Nate Wycoff said. âÄúWe just all answered an ad.âÄù

While founding member Marc Zeigenhagen is no longer with the group, they vividly recall the initial intimidation when this band of strangers came together to take up the loftiest of aural mimicry.

âÄúFor me the whole experience was intimidating because I was with all these great musicians, so I was intimidated on a different level,âÄù said lead singer Thom Fox, who initially played no instrument.

The fact that their undertaking initially felt like a daunting reality is commendable. Sure, the headier output of a band like Radiohead demands a bit more attention than a âÄúDonâÄôt Stop BelievingâÄù cover. However, Just truly succeeds through their ability to take digressions amidst beloved rock canon.

âÄúIn RainbowsâÄú era tracks show Just drummer Paul Hill capturing the original Phil Selway double time on âÄúWeird Fishes,âÄù beat for beat. Yet amplified echoes of their âÄúReckonerâÄú take, Fox carries the falsetto pitch of YorkeâÄôs original recording to a point of enhanced fragility.

This Just listening experience can be a slightly unsettling dive into an uncanny realm. It is an inevitable reality for any âÄúbizarroâÄù band, and they do take their punctuated liberties as any other cover act would. The originally subdued string plucking of those later electronically infused albums are often brought to the foreground. When Just tackles an âÄúOK ComputerâÄú track like the wishful âÄúLucky,âÄù they do so with appropriate attention to that early era dissonance.

âÄúWe kind of have to decide whoâÄôs going to sound best doing what,âÄù Wycoff said. âÄúI have a softer guitar sound and [our other guitarist] has a sharper tone.âÄù

The group remains initially indebted to their source material as well. It is normally RadioheadâÄôs own live retooling that function as a rubric for the bands digressions, Wycoff said. However, that is not to say they play their parts when on stage.

 âÄúI was [initially] having a hard time deciding how to perform that role,âÄù Fox said of YorkeâÄôs emblematic stage presence. âÄúI donâÄôt want to copy the guy, because that would be ridiculous.âÄù

Listening to their re-workings, it wouldnâÄôt make sense for them to adopt such personas either. Fox has YorkeâÄôs range, but he tackles the tracks with less of an emotional agitation in his voice (an expected reality from an individual who did not pen the lyrics).

Moreover, Wycoff also plays with local U2 cover band Rattle and Hum, who will be sharing this weekendâÄôs bill at LeeâÄôs Liquor Lounge. It is a doubling of the audienceâÄôs homage experience as well as his.

âÄúI get a little more variety with Radiohead,âÄù he said, âÄúbut you move over to the U2 stuff, and a lot of those songs are more uplifting.âÄù

It may be easy to associate Just with a higher pedigree of bands solely based upon their choice of coverage, but Radiohead is not easy. And while Minneapolis is a city that enjoys celebrating its music community, the cityâÄôs talent is finite. Taking a break to hear a good band that no one knows play songs everyone loves is not the worst thing. Actually, it is exactly what cover bands are about.

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