Dance the night away4/8/2015
In so far as it is possible for a tribute act to really, genuinely be referred to as “legendary,” The Atomic Punks fit that bill.
Founded in 1994, The Atomic Punks are the only Van Halen tribute act officially endorsed by the actual Van Halen, and former members can be found far and wide: two former guitarists have played with David Lee Roth on his own tours, and founding lead singer Ralph Saenz has gone on to front metal act Steel Panther.
“The Atomic Punks started — this is the 21st year of the band — purely on accident,” said current lead singer Brian Geller in a phone interview. “Scott Patterson, who’s our drummer, had a gig with his cover band, and the lead singer couldn’t make it. A friend of his was there who happened to do a pretty good David Lee Roth impression, so they decided, ‘Let’s just play all Van Halen songs tonight.’ It snowballed from there.”
For the uninitiated, there is a definite difference between a cover band and a tribute act. Most notably musically, the tribute act is performing songs all from one act. Visually, tribute acts strive to emulate the look and feel of a band. It is work that takes commitment as much as genuine musical talent, and The Atomic Punks bring both to the stage, in spades.
“I’ve been a Van Halen fan since sixth grade,” Geller said “I’ve seen them on every tour, and I know the ins and outs of Dave. I went and saw the Atomic Punks in 2003 and was blown away. Right then and there, I said I was going to be a part of that someday. I had never sang a lick before that show.”
“When I first started this whole process, my concern wasn’t studying David Lee Roth and studying his moves and how he acted,” he continued. “I was just thinking, ‘Will I be able to sing these songs?’ I didn’t start singing until I was in my 30s.”
Geller was a fast learner. Five years after that first Atomic Punks show, he was onstage, belting out iconic Van Halen hits with the band.
The Atomic Punks’ show has the capabilities to be extremely diverse. Geller said the band has played shows consisting of one entire album, and has even taken to the road re-creating a specific tour’s set list. But while the quality of the music needs to be consistently high, Geller admits that authenticity is not always as big of a deal as one might think.
“My wardrobe consists of costumes from every tour that they’ve done, ‘78 to ‘84,” he said. “But as far as the ‘Dave attitude,’ it’s kind of a fine line. Let’s face it, people coming out to the show nowadays, chances are they were born after David was fired from the band in ‘85. So a lot of them might not get the fact that, at one time, David Lee Roth was ‘The Man.’ ”
Similarly, as much as it might please the band — consisting of Geller, Patterson, Joe Lester on bass and Lance Turner on guitar — to play “Women and Children First” in its entirety, the band also understands that a large part of its audience may not be the hardcore VH fans that they are.
“When it comes down to it, there are 12 to 15 songs that we have to play every night, just like the real band. We know we can’t leave a venue without playing ‘Panama’ or ‘Jump,’ ” says Geller.
“But I love the way the crowd reacts to those songs,” he continued. “I like the songs that let the band really shine. Stuff that shows people, ‘Hey, we’re not just a cover band or a tribute band, we’re professional musicians.” CV