Three years ago, Hot Rails frontman Ken Janssen started working at the Beachland Ballroom and wanted to come up with "new and exciting ways" to put on a show. So he sent out an e-mail blast to see who would play a Halloween concert. He got so many responses that he started a Beachland tradition.
For that first Halloween bash, he recruited local bands that usually play only original music to perform covers by artists of their choice. JJ Magazine did a set of Residents covers, the Helper T-Cells covered Ween songs and Joshua Jesty put a band together to play Weezer tunes.
"At the time, I thought it was great and wanted to get involved for the next year," says Janssen one recent afternoon at the Beachland. "So the next year, [the Hot Rails] did J. Geils songs, and Pabst Blue Ribbon got involved. That was in the Ballroom, and it was great."
This year, the show is in the Tavern and will feature the Hot Rails doing Who covers, retro-rockers Living Stereo playing the first Damned album (Damned, Damned, Damned) in its entirety, Fakawi doing the Dead Milkman and members of local alt-rock bands Leo and This Is a Shakedown doing a Nirvana tribute. Janssen says the concert is "a brief history of punk," because you can detect traces of punk in the Who and see it blossom in the later acts.
"It's very faithful to the Who," says Janssen, who admits his own musical influences include heavy rock bands like Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. "We're doing the old stuff to stay true, and we're doing a Tommy medley because our drummer loves Tommy and none of us can stand it. But there's no 'Eminence Front.' We're going to motor through the set and cover as much as we can."
Janssen, who describes himself as "a fat stand-up comic in front of a really good rock band," says the Hot Rails have also rehearsed "I Can't Explain," "The Seeker" and "My Generation." The band has a new album slated for March.
"Here's one thing I have to tell you about the Who," he says. "It's a lot harder than you think. Doing J. Geils was easy and right in our wheelhouse. It was a lot of fun. With the Who, there are three- and four-part harmonies."
To help handle that, the band recruited Spacer Ace singer Chad Hill to join the group on backing vocals for the Halloween show.
"It was really hard for me," Janssen saying of imitating Roger Daltrey. "My jaw hurt really hard after practice. But 'Won't Get Fooled Again' sounds amazing. Our new guitarist Dave Paolucci does all the keyboard effects on guitar."
Eric Alleman, a local writer Janssen knows from the Davenport space where the Hot Rails practice, will host the affair dressed as late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. In addition, a busload of fans of the cult movie The Big Lebowski are scheduled to make a stop, ensuring the evening has its share of oddball tricks and treats.