For many local Morrissey fans, the evening of July 3, 2007, was a night of mixed emotions.
After contracting a viral infection, the British singer/songwriter (and former front man of '80s alternative band the Smiths) canceled a handful performances on his U.S. tour, including one at Baltimore's Rams Head Live.
But thanks to some foresight on the part of Andy "Sy" Seyler, drummer and leader of local Smiths/Morrissey tribute band Girlfriend in a Coma, fans were given a Morrissey-based show, despite the absence of the real deal.
"The show was sold out, and Morrissey had already canceled a few of his [other] performances," says Seyler, "so I called Rams Head Live on July 2 and said, 'If Morrissey cancels, we'll go on instead.'"
Seyler ended up getting the call, and Girlfriend in a Coma, which formed in September 2006, played to a nearly sold-out crowd of potentially bitter and disappointed fans.
Luckily, the reception was positive. "That night ... a few fans even came up after the show and said that we really transported them back to that era," says singer Christopher Quinn.
Performing at the Ottobar tomorrow, the members of Girlfriend in a Coma (singer Quinn, guitarist Glenn Riley, bassist Bryan Kimes and Seyler on drums) originally intended to become a true "tribute" band that did justice to the group that they loved.
"There are such things as loose covers," says Seyler, "but in a tribute band, I don't think you do the word justice if you're not making an uncanny representation to the original."
Seyler knows a little something about being in a tribute band. Since 1996, he and Riley have performed with another '80s tribute outfit, the Reagan Years. Performances with that band showed Seyler that the Smiths' music is geared more toward a niche audience.
"There is a certain spice about the Smiths. They are a different animal entirely," says Seyler. "If the Reagan Years play 'Jessie's Girl,' 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' or 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot,' the dance floor will be mobbed. Then, if we play 'Big Mouth Strikes Again' [off the Smiths' 1986 album The Queen is Dead], it's like the parting of the Red Sea."
Quinn, on the other hand, says people have been comparing his vocals and stage presence to Morrissey's during his time in other bands for the past 18 years.
Although Riley, Kimes and Seyler don't make an effort to resemble the rest of the Smiths musicians, Quinn has embraced the idea of looking and sounding the part of Morrissey -- complete with trademark coif and the sort of bravado associated with the enigmatic Brit.
"The aesthetic aspect of the show, the guys aren't trying to convey," says Quinn. "Our guitarist has long hair. Morrissey has been quoted as saying, 'Long hair is an abomination.' Besides, your Smiths/Morrissey tribute is only as strong as your Morrissey."
Quinn's embrace of Morrissey's look and personality has added a sense of authenticity to Girlfriend in a Coma's performances. So much, in fact, that during their most recent show at the Ottobar, Quinn was the victim of numerous "stage invasions" by fans who felt compelled to express their admiration in a physical way.
But Quinn insists he's not consumed with the idea of portraying Morrissey 24/7.
"I'm not one of these people that walks around and thinks I'm Morrissey," says Quinn. "But when I go on stage, I will speak with a British accent. When people pursue me and ask, 'Is he available?' I try to exude availability by answering indirectly like I think Morrissey would. I'll give an indirect answer and look for something clever to say."
Girlfriend in a Coma will perform tomorrow at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $10. For tickets, go to missiontix.com. For more information, go to theottobar.com or call 410-662-0069.