Gem Barbarella: Burn, Baby, Burn

By William Brents

Like everyone else, I've seen some great bands prevail in my day (The Replacements, Blue Rodeo, NRBQ, etc.) and I've seen some highly regarded bands fall from grace (Counting Crows, Soul Asylum, etc.). But I can safely say that I've never seen a worthwhile cover band. Cover bands are strictly taboo!

That close-minded belief was totally danced away on the night of July 7 at the Cherokee. The band responsible for my new attitude? Louisville's own Gem Barbarella.

Anyone who has caught their act will attest that Gem Barbarella is no ordinary cover band. They describe their music as "discore," which is basically classic disco songs played to a hardcore funk vibe.

Their wardrobe was vintage "Saturday Night Fever." Polyester suits, platform shoes, flashy gold jewelry and bizarre Afro wigs that made drummer Jeff Rector and guitarist Andy Willis look like a couple of demented Juan Epstein impersonators.

It gets better. Vocalist Greg Maier likes women so much he dresses like one when performing. Right down to the garter belts and saggy satin panties. Maier is adept at working a room; he made more tips on this night than those three ugly girls at Deja Vu ever will.

In terms of raw debauchery, the first set paled in comparison to the second. That's when the band's antics hit high gear.

A willing Maier had his hairy chest decorated in whipped cream and cherries by one fan, followed by a naughty little dance Maier performed with one well-endowed prop, so to speak.

Don't let their goofy behavior and clownish outfits fool you; these guys are genuine musicians, with the exception of Maier, who's genuinely certifiable.

Led by the "groovemaster" himself, bassist Casey Seitz, the band hilariously revisited the grand era of disco. Seitz was clearly in a zone, effortlessly laying down those familiar bass lines from such hits as "Disco Inferno," "Funky Town" and "Hot Stuff." Guitarist Willis was equally amazing, playing sharp, jazzy riffs on "Jive Talkin" and "Car Wash," just to name a few.

As for Maier, he took some liberties (surprise!) with the lyrics, creating his own zany stories.

Gem Barbarella is a prime party band, pure and simple. They like to drink, dance and laugh, and from where I was at I would say they succeeded.

They turned the Cherokee into Soul Train Central and had some people thinking they could actually dance. That may very well be the legacy of Gem Barbarella.