And the switch? That involves the songs those bands will play. The musicians will bypass their original work and exclusively perform tunes by an earlier band that has significantly influenced their work. Think of it as a musical wife swap or Freaky Friday.
“It’s a good way for bands to have some fun and raise some money for great causes,” said Chris Tamplin, a partner in Motorco and the venue’s booker.
The identities of the participating acts aren’t secret; see below for the full lineup. But the bands they’ll be covering are supposed to be kept under wraps until each 30-minute set begins.
Guitarist Alex Maiolo will be performing Saturday with an unnamed band that got together just for Undercover. He knows from past events that part of the fun is guessing who will be playing what.
Spectators and musicians “show up, they stand around, they see people milling around in the crowd dressed like they aren’t normally dressed,” he said. “And then you sit there and you look at somebody and you say, ‘Is that guy supposed to be Elvis or Roy Orbison or — I’m not quite sure who he is.’ And then, of course, people get on stage and, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s so and so!’ ”
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Bull City Undercover brings to Durham a tradition that has been around for years. Tamplin credited Kings Barcade of Raleigh for holding the first Triangle “undercover,” which Kings called the Great Coverup.
When the original Kings closed to enable the construction of a new parking deck, Tamplin kept the event going at Tir Na Nog, where he was working as a booker.
Kings has reopened and holds its coverup in the wintertime. Tamplin and fellow Motorco partner Jeremy Roth say they want to hold annual undercovers, as Kings does.
(In a similar but more locally focused vein, Pinhook has held at least two “band swaps.” The format requires each band to play at least one song by one of the other groups performing that evening.)
Frontman Doug Edmunds of the Stars Explode will be pulling double duty Saturday. He’ll perform on vocals and guitar with his regular band and will also play drums with the temporary group that includes Maiolo. Fellow members of this supergroup, as Tamplin called it, have played in I Was Totally Destroying It and the Huguenots. Edmunds has also been asked to put in a guest appearance on keyboards for one of Thursday’s acts.
This is Edmunds’ first undercover-style event. He’s found that covering familiar songs isn’t as easy as it might seem.
“When you’re ... trying to emulate a band that you’re probably a big fan of to begin with, once you sit down and try to pick apart the music and do it justice, it’s pretty challenging,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, it can be fun to set aside original songs and play other people’s. “In some ways, the pressure’s off, because it’s not your music,” Edmunds said.
The drummer for Restoration Hardware, another supergroup assembled by John Ensslin, is Scott Carle. He also attested to the challenges of covers.
“You just have to get the little things right and pay attention to certain details, but you also have to get the vibe of the song and the groove of the song,” Carle said. “But it’s fun when you do it.”
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So who’s playing what?
We don’t want to spoil the fun of the event, but we’ll provide two hints.
Maiolo said the temporary group he’s playing with is covering “a relatively well-known atmospheric post-punk band from —” Well, let’s just leave it at that.
Said Edmunds of the Stars Explode tribute target: “We’re gonna be covering a band that is a cult indy band from the U.K. dating back to —” Ahem! Loose links sink ships, and all that. Although we’ll throw in that, per Edmunds, this band’s singer-songwriter went on to some renown.
(We’re also told you can find out more by scouring social media sites of the Undercover performers.)
It’s worth noting that, unlike the unnamed pickup group featuring Maiolo and Edmunds, Carle hopes that Restoration Hardware will be able to play at least one full show later this year.
And Edmunds is planning to do an entire cover album of a record that he said “is very near and dear to a lot of music geeks.” He didn’t want to name his fellow performers or the band or album they plan to emulate because it’s still in the works.
“I definitely have fun doing this sort of thing, and I think I’d like to do it in the future,” Edmunds said.
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Here’s the lineup for Bull City Undercover at Motorco Music Hall. Doors open at 8 p.m. for all shows. There’s a $5 cover each night. Proceeds from these shows will benefit SEEDS and Central Park School for Children.
9:30 p.m.: Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan
10:15 p.m.: Stratocruiser
11 p.m.: The Huguenots
11:45 p.m.: The Mercators
9:30 p.m.: Sea Cow
10:15 p.m.: Brett Harris
11 p.m.: Tripp
11:45 p.m.: Wylie Hunter & The Cazadores
9:30 p.m.: Reduced to Ruin
10:15 p.m.: The Stars Explode
11 p.m.: Restoration Hardware
11:45 p.m.: Yet to be named “supergroup”