It's Thursday night on Clematis and although it's early, the sidewalks are overflowing with bar-goers in search of an early start to their weekend. Heavy bass beats rhythmically into the streets and neon letters light the windows, "Corona," "Budweiser Select" -- two reasons to endure the work week.
A quiet gallery on the corner of Rosemary and the main drag stands half lit on the inside and is incredible in its unassuming stillness. At least it seems that way from across the street. Moving in closer, the bassy sounds of dance music gives way to the sound of faded distortion and a growling voice prevails through the din like a ghost.
After banging on a few solid black doors at the rear of the building the gallery is situated in, Smells Like Grunge's drummer -- a bearded thirty-something with a backwards cap and a broad smile -- pops out from the last door to the right. He turns around into a well-lit hallway where the rest of the band waits at the ready. It's mid-practice for this incarnation of the trio -- a Nirvana tribute band.
"We've been playing together for about two years under the name Walk of Shame, but we were recently booked to play Swampgrass Willy's when the band that was playing before us had to bail. The woman in charge of the booking asked us to play some of our Nirvana covers in their place, just so there wasn't a void," says drummer Jay Scott.
"People were just there watching us. Totally into it -- not ordering drinks or talking to each other. Just into it," says guitarist and Cobain stand in, Nick Rotondi. "So, we thought 'Hey, this thing's got some legs,' and we decided to run with it."
The band runs through a fit of songs they've been diligently practicing for the last eight weeks. The tunes range from one studio album to the next and even though these songs are over two decades old, the sound of Grohl's relentless drums, Cobain's distorted incoherence and Novoselic's effortless rhythms are hauntingly new.
"Think about it, even for diehard Nirvana fans, the band's run was so short lived, that for a lot of people, seeing Nirvana live was never an option. I think that's what a lot of people take away from our shows and why people take to the music so well," says Rotondi.
And from this moment, anyone would be hard pressed not to take interest in a project that manages to stand out among a sea of cover bands.
"This is the difference between a cover band and a tribute band. We aren't here to play a few covers the way we prefer to hear them and then knock out some originals. We don't take liberties with these songs because we grew up with Nirvana and respect their music," says Scott. "We've even been knocked for attempting to do what we do, but the difference is that we believe this music is sacred."
Scott and his band mates seem to understand the idea of sanctity, which seems to be the only reason they started toying with Nirvana's music to begin with. He quickly follows up on his last statement, "And as long as we're doing it, we might as well do it right."
The trio, as a tribute are still young, but in the eight weeks they've been committed to the tribute track, they've knocked out about fifteen songs and they perform them with dignity, even paying respect to the individual band members themselves.
"Learning these songs and our individual parts, you start to dissect the band in pieces, getting to know the personalities of these musicians. For me, I couldn't help but start taking a deeper interest in Dave Grohl. He's an animal and I know we are all working really hard to live up to the greatness that each of these individual musicians possess."
Scott is on to something. The three band members take on some of the original act's appearance, like eerie ghosts. Scott with his close shaven beard and long hair, damn it all if he doesn't resemble Grohl himself. Of course there's Hector Diaz, who's height is matched by Novoselic, and even takes on some of the same characteristics while playing.
Finally there is Rotondi, who warrants a double take. His eyes are a see-through type of blue, and he wears beard scruff as well as Cobain ever did, but those aren't the things that will catch an audience off guard. Rather it is his head of hair or head of hairpiece that cranes the neck in curiosity. It's easily dismissible and even easier than that, the potential for scrutiny is endless, but Rotondi is not fucking around.
He's serious and with the confidence and authority he carries on Cobain and the subject of Nirvana in general, there's a hundred good reasons to listen to him play or listen to him tell a story about the band before even broaching the subject.
Rotondi is genuinely excited about Nirvana (in fact the entire band is so excited about Nirvana they practically finish each other's sentences throughout the entire chat), and even more floored by Cobain himself. He talks about Cobain as if he was a childhood hero and, it seems, he struggles with playing cool about it. The length at which he talks about the band's history and the gusto he retains while telling even the most well-known Nirvana anecdotes could turn anyone into a believer.
"Cobain was an icon. The music he was writing in 1991 was stuff that even bands in 1999 could barely pull off," Rotondi says.
Smells Like Grunge is into it. Historians of a sound and time they won't soon let people forget because they themselves can't forget it.
"The message Nirvana had then is still so relevant now," Scott says in true Grohl fashion. "Real musicians, playing real music with real instruments. Not this overproduced American Idol crap."
The message is a no brainer, but in a world indeed overrun with recording artists that missed the memo, Smells Like Grunge is a steadfast reference of talent and dedication keeping that spirit alive.
Smells Like Grunge. With Sara Scully. 10 p.m., Saturday, May 25, at Speakeasy Lounge, 129 N. Federal Hwy, Lake Worth. Entrance is $5. Visit the Facebook page.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism