Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stones! Covers!
They're just a click away, they're just a click away...

I saw Shine a Light a couple days ago and have come to the conclusion that I don't particularly like watching concert films, though as far as concert films go, it's pretty awesome. My main beef is that I was just sitting there with my arms alternately folded or propping up my head on the armrest. IMAX, larger than life, like being there... except you're not. It's missing the exhilaration of watching a LIVE performance unfold before your eyes and ears, and simply being engulfed in the music. Maybe it was just me. A woman next to me distractingly danced in her chair, and by "dance" I mean she made little fists and awkwardly moved them up and down to no particular beat. Luckily she only danced for the songs she knew, which were not many. And this was to the great benefit of the film too, as their big hits were limited to the beginning and end of the film. I was somewhat surprised by the diversity of the set, expecting mostly hits to be churned out. If you were to use the Forty Licks album as a template for their greatest hits, only seven of those were played, which makes up less than half of Shine a Light. Before the concert, we see Mick Jagger poring over pages and pages of potential songs that he uses to compile setlists. The songs are amusingly listed under headings of "well-known", "medium known", and "songs we should never play live". So it was a treat to hear the lesser known songs come out to play. But even the songs that have probably been played and rehearsed to death, they still manage to make electric.

The easy comparison is to the last Imax concert film I saw, U2 3D, and there's quite a difference. The Rolling Stones are more lively for one thing. Watching Mick Jagger is remarkable; he's got more moves and energy than people half his age (and then some). At one point Keith Richards remarks that when he's out on stage he stops thinking and just feels. The intimacy of Shine a Light shares that sense of feeling the music. Sure, the Stones occasionally wink at the crowd or do the ol' "I can't hear you" shtick, but other times, particularly when Buddy Guy joins them for a stunning Muddy Waters cover, the crowd seems to fade away and they are just plain having a blast on stage with each other. Special guests Jack White and Christina Aguilera inject some excitement to an already buzzing show, even if they're just a marketing ploy to pull a younger demographic into the seats. And guess what, it worked. Cut Scorsese and White from the credits, and I probably would not be inclined to check it out.

Be warned that even though the concert was being directed by Martin Scorsese with a crack team of Oscar-winning/nominated cinematographers (There Will Be Blood, The Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Children of Men, Kill Bill, The Aviator, etc.) with 16 cameras covering every angle, like any concert these days it is not immune to idiots proudly holding up their crappy cell phone cameras to snap blurry 2MP close-ups of Mick or even worse "filming". You're in the front row, people-- enjoy it!

Now, a handful of my all-time favourite Stones covers.

Ruth Copeland - Gimme Shelter
Even though Gimme Shelter appears in three Scorsese films (Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed), I guess it just didn't make the setlist this time around. Gimme Shelter has been covered numerous times by the likes of Merry Clayton (the female vocalist on the original), Patti Smith, Grand Funk Railroad, Angélique Kidjo with Joss Stone, Mitch Ryder, and most recently the Stereophonics. But my favourite cover of Gimme Shelter has has got to be singer Ruth Copeland backed by George Clinton and members of Parliament. Copeland, a British folk/blues singer, was a co-producer on Parliament's debut album Osmium and her association with George Clinton and Parliament extended to her first two solo albums Self Portrait and I Am What I Am, both later collected and released as Gimme Shelter: The Invictus Sessions. At just over 8 minutes, it's an epic funk tour-de-force. Eschewing the trademark rhythm guitar opening, it starts off with just the drums, before the main chords are dramatically pounded out on a piano. Then, enter the fuzz. Warbling, wah wah, fuzzy guitars featuring a blistering Jimi-like lead by Parliament's Eddie Hazel. And Ruth Copeland's soulful wails of War! Children! Rape! Murder! cement this as the winning cover. Halfway through, the drums crawl to a stop, replaced by a slow organ with whispered vocals of the chorus, which swell to a chaotic climax as the band bursts back in and "love's just a kiss away" is repeatedly chanted like it's the end of the world.

Choro Azul - Paint It, Black
RLM & Katsuhiko Sakamoto & Ikuko Harada - 19th Nervous Breakdown
The blandly titled Japanese compilation A Tribute to the Rolling Stones is paradoxically filled a bunch of good to great Stones covers that play unexpectedly with several over-covered Stones hits. I love this Choro Azul cover that transforms Paint It, Black into a Brazilian samba with Nina Simone-like vocals. And I love this 19th Nervous Breakdown cover, an upbeat piano jaunt with liberal use of a flute. With a near incomprehensible accent, the lead singer sounds like he has heard the original so many times that he knows the lyrics down pat by sound, if not necessarily meaning.

Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine - Wild Horses
I'm going to reveal my ignorance of Alicia Keys and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine... when I first heard this cover, I thought the initial voice heard singing was Alicia Keys. Only when the clearly female vocals kick in for the second verse did I realize that oops, that was Adam Levine earlier. Gender bending vocals aside, I really like this piano-based cover-- even that curious key change every time they sing "...couldn't drag me away".

Moist - Miss You
Mid-90's Canadian rockers Moist ditch the disco vibe of the original.

Tori Amos - Angie
In 2001, Tori Amos released Strange Little Girls, a cover concept album where she re-interpreted twelve songs written by men. The 1992 EP for the single Crucify also featured three covers that would have fit the bill: Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, Led Zeppelin's Thank You, and this cover of The Rolling Stones' Angie.


Linda said...

Absolutely fantastic covers!!!! Thank you!!!!


Eiron Page said...

The Rolling Stones must have more films centered around their work than anybody. I recommend 'Gimme Shelter', which is fairly frightening stuff, if you haven't seen it already. Thanks for these. I stopped watching filmed concerts after seeing one of the more recent U2 ones. It seemed much more an exercise of vanity on the part of the artists, rather than of something of interest to the casual fan.

Anonymous said...


I'm searching for early Oingo Boingo tunes and it looks like you had some at one point- any chance they can go back up ppppllleeeaaassseee. (and thank in advance).

Anonymous said...

Wow, that Miss You cover is actually quite cool. I've heard of MOIST, they were described to me in the late 90's as the "Collective Soul" of Canada. Maybe so, sorta for them that NEED to label. Its a nice little gem to find. I used to live in a border city so I got wind of a lot of cool Canadian bands. Not just the Hip or Barenaked Ladies either. Thanks again for the COOL Stones cover.

Fongolia said...

Yeah, I myself was surprised by that cover which came from a compilation called Paint It Black, which has a lot of pretty well-known Stones covers. Oddly though all the track listings online don't list the Moist track, so maybe it snuck on to a "Canadian edition" of the disc.

Moist was big here in Canada with hits like Silver, Believe Me, and Push from their debut album. Their 2nd album had a few hits too including my favourite Leave It Alone. I don't know if they broke up or what, but their last proper album was in 1999 and since then, lead singer David Usher has done several solo albums. If I was forced to make a comparison, they vaguely remind me of the band Live rather than Collective Soul.