A decade ago the typical hard-rock cover band was made up of ugly men. Men with do-rags concealing bald spots and leather jackets stretched over beef and paunch. These unsightly man-boys would grind out marginal versions of "Born to Be Wild," "My Woman from Tokyo" and the inescapable "Free Bird" in dingy bars, as wannabe bikers pounded pitchers of watery, domestic beer.
Sounds like fun, don't it?
Things could only get better for cover bands, and they have. The bands have gotten cooler (The Atomic Punks), more strange (Dead Man's Party, an Oingo Boingo tribute band that's like a traveling circus show) and sexier (all-female heavy-metal tribute bands). It's this last improvement that's the most bizarre and wonderful.
Dozens of all-female bands have emerged in the past few years, covering such testosterone-fueled groups as Black Sabbath, KISS and AC/DC (amazingly, there are three all-female AC/DC tributes). But no band pushes the limits of this uncanny fad like the Iron Maidens-five young, talented, attractive women who, of their own free will, play grandiloquent second-wave British metal.
Most consider Iron Maiden the band least appealing to women in the rock genre least appealing to women. Maiden's songs are typically concerned with war ("The Trooper," "Aces High," "Alexander the Great"), mythology ("Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Flight of Icarus," "Alexander the Great") and Satan (most every other Maiden song). So you might think that the Iron Maidens are based on gimmick and not a love of their namesake.
But you would be wrong.
"I heard a live record they put out, Maiden Japan, and that was it," says drummer Linda McDonald earnestly. "I thought, I gotta play and I gotta play like that. That is the absolute reason I started playing."
"And she just does it so well," adds lead singer Aja Kim. "It makes it even more fun to see a girl that small hit the drums that hard."
The girls' love of the music-the ornately brutal guitar-metal, that is-makes sense. Sort of.
But what about the words? What about the lyrics about Churchill and Icarus and Satan? What about choruses like: "Alexander the Great/His name struck fear into hearts of men/Alexander the Great/Became a god amongst mortal men."
Surely, the Maidens don't get off on eight-minute songs that tell, in intricate detail, the saga of Macedonia's greatest son?
Yes, actually. They do.
"It's intelligent music," says Kim. "It's about literature. It's about history. This is what makes the music so interesting. This is what makes it last over time."
"And the bottom line," chimes in guitarist Sara Marsh, "is it's stereotypical to think that women aren't interested in literature or history... or that they can't shred. But we do shred ."
The girls do admit they're a bit of a novelty act. But over the last five years, the group has seen an increasing number of women (and men) at their shows. The Maidens chalk it up to the music and their interpretation of the music. Maybe women feel empowered by the Maidens. Maybe they're just dedicated girlfriends and wives. Or maybe they just recognize great rock 'n' roll theater when they see it.
Like Maiden, the band relishes in their over-the-top stage histrionics. It's on a smaller scale, of course. But the Maidens' stage show still has smoke, brimstone and appearances by Maiden-mascot Eddie, the grim reaper and the devil (who apparently aren't the same person). The band's debut album, The Iron Maidens, even features a female update of Eddie, painted by the original Maiden artist Derek Riggs.
"She's based off Paris Hilton," says Kim. "If Paris Hilton's flesh were rotting off her bones, that would be her."
Paris Hilton revealed to be what she really is: a flesh-rotting zombie monster-c'mon, who can't get into that?The Iron Maidens unleash the beast at 'Canes, 8 p.m. on June 18. $10. 858-488-1780.