There's a fine line between tribute and parody. And, somehow, Spokane’s own The Elton Jah Band, a reggae Elton John tribute band, is walking that line successfully.
The members of Elton Jah — all in other local bands — don’t want this band to just seem like a side project or some sort of local “super group,” so the lead singer requests to go by his stage name, Elton Jah.
Jah knows his band’s concept is silly. Even sillier, though, is the group’s backstory.
“This idea we had was to have Elton Jah be from the ghettos of Kingston [Jamaica] and he was around in the ’60s and wrote all these songs — he just never recorded them,” Jah says. “Then some guy in England starts performing them and made them mainstream and now we’re back to reclaim our space.”
It’s an elaborate history for a band that has only been together for four months. But Jah has been hammering out the details of this band for a year.
“I’ve been working on the whole legal side of it,” he says. “We wanted to do a lot of pre-work before we started. We didn’t want to just start playing shows and find out that there was already a band doing this.”
The legal side of things included securing rights to songs and trademarking the band’s name.
Jah got the idea for a reggae tribute band from his high school friends in Dread Zeppelin, a reggae Led Zeppelin tribute that had an Elvis Presley impersonator acting as lead singer.
Transforming Elton John songs involved a lot of trial and error.
“Some things were obvious, some moved really well,” Jah says. “Like, we do a ska version of ‘Crocodile Rock.’ That just couldn’t be anything else.”
When the band takes the stage at the Knitting Factory, it will be their second show — ever. After debuting to a diverse crowd at the Red Room Lounge in January, they were invited to perform at the Bud Light Platinum-sponsored show.
“The weird thing for me is to look into the crowd and see people in their 40s and girls who have just turned 21,” Jah says. “It just goes to show that this thing has legs and has a wide demographic.”
Though they’re new to the stage, the Elton Jah Band has a very thought-out live show, complete with costumes and graphics that accompany each song.
“It’s really meant to be funny. Some of [the graphics are] me singing in front of a green screen, lip syncing and clouds are going behind me and shit,” Jah says, laughing.
As far as their set goes, the Elton Jah Band plays all the classics: “Benny and the Jets,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Your Song,” “Crocodile Rock,” “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and Jah’s favorite, “Rocket Man.”
During their show at the Knitting Factory, the audience can get in on the act by taking pictures of themselves wearing Elton John-worthy glasses, boas and hats that the band has provided.
Although they are just starting off, Jah already has big plans for the band.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the Blue Man Group in Las Vegas, but I would love to get a residency like that,” Jah says. “Something so undeniably entertaining, it would warrant people coming to see that every night.”
No matter how far the band goes, Jah and the rest of the crew just want the audience to have a good time.
“We’re so tired of seeing bands that are good, they’re just shy [on stage] and are staring at their shoes. We want to see people try and put an effort forth and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Elton Jah Band with Flying Spiders and MC Squared • Fri, March 2 at 8 pm • Knitting Factory • Free • 21 • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279