When most music fans think of a tribute band - whether it's a fair assessment or not - they think of a group of less-talented musicians copying a legendary act.
But the Metallica tribute band Battery blows that stereotype out of the water. They're perhaps the most rare act in their style - a tribute band that has toured with their idols.
It happened in 1998, said Laurence Langley, Battery's drummer and co-founder. That year, the metal masters released an album of all cover songs called "Garage, Inc." For the band's five-date promo tour around the U.S., he says, the group was concerned that their fans would get upset if they didn't hear Metallica's classic songs.
Battery, billed as the premier Metallica tribute band, rock with George Hartwig (left) and Jay Shrodek portraying James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, respectively.
"They had a meeting and Lars [Ulrich, the group's drummer] jokingly said, 'Why don't we get Battery and then they can play our songs and we can play these covers,'" Langley said. "So they joked about it and then Lars said, 'Ya know, that's not a bad idea.'"
Metallica's management contacted Battery and pitched the idea. They happily agreed, of course.
"We did the 'Garage, Inc.' [promo] tour," Langley remembers happily. "Five cities. All sold-out shows."
If you go
Who: Battery, featuring Highway Divide and I-Enemy, part of the Alive@5 summer concert series
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoona
Tickets: $10 in advance and $15 at the door
The band that so impressed Metallica will get a chance to impress Altoona when they open up the Alive@5 summer concert series this Saturday night at the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona.
The concert will feature local bands Highway Divide and I-Enemy beginning at 3 p.m. and Battery performing at 8 p.m.
Langley spoke with the Mirror recently while on the way to a show in Toledo, Ohio. He and bassist Phil M formed Battery while performing in the early 1990s in an original band called Disaster Area, which was based in their home town of Toronto.
Disaster Area was a normal band, playing originals and struggling to make it, but they found they had a knack for cover versions of Metallica songs. The long-haired heavy metal legends were just starting to make noise in the mainstream and Disaster Area's covers of their hits brought them to the attention of booking agents in the U.S.
But those agents didn't want Disaster Area; they wanted Metallica. So Battery came up with a novel approach.
"What we did was, we became Battery, a Tribute to Metallica, with opening act Disaster Area," Langley said.
This was in 1993, when Metallica's self-titled 1991 album was still fresh in fans' minds and the band was near its most popular. As the calls for Battery over-shadowed the calls for Disaster Area, the group eventually decided to go full throttle as a tribute act.
"We started playing and bringing the Metallica show to every nook and cranny of North America," Langley said. "As Metallica became bigger and bigger and the ticket prices got higher and higher, you could still come and see us at a club in, like, Altoona, for five bucks."
The act has taken Battery - which also includes George Hartwig as lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield, Jay Shrodek as guitarist Kirk Hammett and Phil M as original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton - farther than they could have ever forseen.
"We left Canada and that was the first show and it went great, but little did we know," he said. "We've been to Alaska, we've been to Puerto Rico, we've been to the Virgin Islands, all across Canada, we're scheduled to go to Belgium [in the fall]. ...
"Every weekend we play two shows, every Friday and Saturday, all year. We get to go all over the country."
Though Battery's look mirrors the early days of Metallica, when black clothes and long, greasy hair were the norm, the group has a good feel for the band's entire catalog.
"What I'll do is I'll go out and walk around the crowd and see what kind of crowd it is, then I'll go back and write the set to fit that crowd," Langley said. "For example, if we're playing a show with more old-school Metallica fans, then that's the music that we play. If there's a crowd with more females or there's more young kids, then we play all the radio songs.
"We've tried to build our catalog so we can tailor our show to any crowd."
According to Sherry McCarthy, director of marketing for the Railroaders Museum, the crowd that will file in for Alive@5 this weekend will be anxious for a little metal.
"Over the winter months, we took a lot of advice from people," she said. "And we heard 'Metallica' from a lot of people. Obviously, we can't get Metallica. So we did some research and this is the next best thing."
Though past acts have played some hard rock, Battery is the farthest the concert series has ever gone toward heavy metal.
"We're trying to get a bit of everything from our requests," McCarthy said. "We want to try and make everyone happy."
Of course, that goal has its limitations, she said.
"We see the Facebook comments and they make suggestions on who they want to see," McCarthy said. "I think it's clear that people want the big national bands and I think it's pretty obvious that's not possible. So we try to do the best we can with the money that we have."
In much the same way, Battery does the best they can with the tools they have - their talent and their love of Metallica's music. Their dedication has left behind an appreciative Metallica and a legion of happy fans.
"We try to make it like the person in the audience feels like they've been to a really good Metallica show," Langley said.
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.