Sunday, February 18, 2007

Year of the Pig

Happy Chinese New Year, folks!

It's the Year of the Pig starting today. I'm a pig (or boar, if you prefer) and this is my year, so theoretically I should be getting off my butt and doing something productive with my life. Other notable pigs: our Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper; future prez(?), Hillary Clinton; Kevin Spacey; Rachel Weisz; a couple of my favourite directors, Alfred Hitchcock & Woody Allen; Borat star, Sasha Baron Cohen; and many more. Since the Chinese follow a lunar calendar, the new year can fall anywhere between late-January to mid-February. So if you're a January/February baby, you'd be right on the cut-off between 2 animals. Wikipedia has what I'd hope to be a fairly accurate breakdown of the date ranges for Pig years.

Are you a Pig?

The Dresden Dolls - War Pigs [originally by Black Sabbath]
Cake - War Pigs [originally by Black Sabbath]
Ozzy Osbourne & Miss Piggy - Born to Be Wild [originally by Steppenwolf]

Elton John and Canadian soft rocker Bryan Adams are among several music artists born in the Year of the Pig, so here's a cover and unlikely duet from each of them:

Aretha Franklin - Border Song [originally by Elton John]
Elton John & Ryan Adams - Daniel

John Alcorn - Run to You [originally by Bryan Adams]
Bryan Adams & Luciano Pavarotti - All for Love [originally by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Léon Covered

One of my favourite films is Léon (AKA: The Professional). If you've seen it, you probably know what I'm talking about. It's got the incredible film debut of Natalie Portman, age 12, in what still stands up today as probably her best role. It's got Gary Oldman in an over-the-top, scene-chewing (yet great) performance as a crooked DEA agent. And, of course, this would have been the first time most of us were introduced to the wickednesss of Jean Reno. It's hard to believe that director Luc Besson descended into such mediocrity after this. In fact, his directorial output over the past decade is sparse to say the least and he has become synonymous, at least in my mind, with churning out mindless action sequels (primarily as a writer/producer). That's not to say there's no entertainment to be had in multiple Transporters, constant Taxis, and American Jet Li movies, but seeing his name attached to a film trailer has definitely lost any sense of "Ooh, I might see that". If anything, it's simply been a disappointing decline in filmmaking from the guy who brought us La Femme Nikita, Léon, or even The Fifth Element.

But I digress, some songs from the movie:

The Originals
Björk - Venus as a Boy
This song plays over a montage of Mathilda (Portman) and Léon's (Reno) developing hitman/pupil relationship. Like the Rocky Training Montage, but Björked.

Gene Kelly - Singin' in the Rain
Léon's a big fan of the old Gene Kelly musicals and who can blame him. Though if you've seen Singin' in the Rain, that final 17-minute dance finale is overkill.

Sting - Shape of My Heart
This now-familiar guitar intro leads into the film's end credits.

Covers & Other Derivations...
Corinne Bailey Rae - Venus as a Boy
Oftentimes I start listening to new artists after discovering them through covers. About 6 years ago, I started to really get into The Living End after repeatedly listening to their version of Tainted Love (a modern classic, by the way). Danny Michel is another instance where I eventually "evolved" into listening to his original music (moreso now, then his covers) based on initial exposure to his take on Young Americans. At some point you realize not only is it a great cover, but a great band or artist. After hearing this and her cover of Zeppelin's Since I've Been Loving You, Corinne Bailey Rae is starting to move into this territory. I'm excited to hear some more from her in the near future.

Nils Landgren Funk Unit - Venus as a Boy
An instrumental jazz version, closely veering into the realm of elevator music or telephone hold limbo.

Mike Flowers Pop - Venus as a Boy
If you've heard their cover of Wonderwall, you know what to expect with this cover.


Mint Royale - Singin' in the Rain
You'd remember this from a particularly funky VW Golf commercial from a couple years ago. This might be considered sacriligious, but damn those are some wacky moves to behold, particularly the "strobe light effect". Shockingly, the only CGI is the pasting of Gene Kelly's face onto some scarily inhuman pop 'n lock dancers (google: David Elsewhere for more). The remix used in the commercial was done by Mint Royale, who later expanded the track for their album See You in the Morning.

Jamie Cullum - Singin' in the Rain
He's on my concert to-do list.


Dominic Miller featuring Sting - Shape of My Heart
This doesn't really qualify as a cover since Dominic Miller co-wrote and performed on the original. But Miller later released a solo album of classical music with this remake, complete with Sting in tow. Not surprisingly, it is very similar to the original.

Randy Bachman & Burton Cummings - Shape of My Heart
Last year there was a CBC special of these two Canadian rockers revisiting their classic songs from The Guess Who/Bachman-Turner Overdrive repertoire. Unexpectedly, they whipped out this excellent cover, which incidentally was a bit of a hassle to rip from our PVR box. They also teased viewers with the first 40 seconds of Jimi Hendrix's Stone Free before it inexplicably cut to commercial break, thus crushing the cover lover in me. Since then they released a DVD of the full performance, which makes the inexplicable commercial break not so inexplicable.

Sugababes - Shape
One of two songs (both apparently hits from 2003, no less) that use the Sting song as the basis for a new song. The second song is below...

Craig David - Rise and Fall (featuring Sting)
I find it vaguely amusing that, excluding the Bachman/Cummings cover, all these new versions of Shape of My Heart actually feature Sting, either through sampling or cameos.
i.e. "I will let you use the song, but only if I get to sing too."
"Uh, sure thing Sting."
Because really, who could say no to Sting? Apparently, neither Andy Summers nor Stewart Copeland. "We are The Police and we are back!" So much for rock mystique... Very subtle, guys.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Gypsy Punk

Lately I've been diggin' me some so-called "gypsy punk," a genre that previously I didn't even know existed. Yet over the past few months, I've independently stumbled upon two bands that could be each classified as such.

First, there's Gogol Bordello whose frontman Eugene Hütz is credited with coining the term "gypsy punk cabaret" to describe the band, which is a punk-infused Eastern European romp. The gala screening at the Edmonton Film Festival in October was a film called Wristcutters: A Love Story, an offbeat roadtrip comedy set in an alternate plane of existence where all the suicide victims end up and "everything's the same, just a little bit worse". It's quite a charming little gem of a movie with inspired performances from an eclectic cast that includes Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous), Tom Waits (!), Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, and Arrested Development's Will Arnett (as a self-proclaimed Messiah, no less). I found out after that some of the music on the soundtrack was done by Gogol Bordello, so I checked the library and we had a couple of their CDs. Shea Whigham's character Eugene, who electrocutes himself and dies mid-song at a gig, is no doubt inspired by Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hütz (who presumably did not electrocute himself and die mid-song at a gig).

Here are a couple of my favourite tracks:
Gogol Bordello - When The Trickster Starts A-Poking (Bordello Kind Of Guy)
Gogol Bordello - I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again
Gogol Bordello - Huliganjetta

The other band I've started listening to is Golem. Apparently gypsy punk can be further sub-categorized: Gogol Bordello could be considered Slavic gypsy punk while Golem is more along the lines of klezmer/Yiddish gypsy punk. I first took note of Golem when I heard their song Warsaw is Khelm, which features Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls sharing lead vocals.

Golem - Warsaw is Khelm (featuring Amanda Palmer)
Golem - Mazel
Golem - The Rent

I suspect my affinity for this genre goes back to my days as a huge fan of Captain Tractor, a local band whose music is usually Celtic folk-rock but they have a few songs that share the same "gypsy punk" vibe. For example, the conspicuously titled Gypsy Music, a 30-second throwaway track from their Bought The Farm album. Also, a cover of If I Were a Rich Man, which I posted long ago in the formative stages of this blog.

Captain Tractor - Gypsy Music
Captain Tractor - If I Were a Rich Man [originally by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick from Fiddler on the Roof]

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Squirrel Nut Zippers Comeback Special

Here we go again with yet another Squirrel Nut Zippers post:

Even though I'm nowhere near where these shows are happening, I'm really excited about the upcoming Squirrel Nut Zippers mini-tour. It's only 4 shows, possibly just a one-off thing, and it starts next week!

February 6 -- The Birchmere, Alexandria VA
February 7 -- Ram's Head Tavern, Annapolis MD
February 8 -- Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill NC
February 9 -- Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta GA

Go, go now if you can!

Last month, Zipper drummer Chris Phillips dropped by my blog with a comment ("where were you when we needed you?") on a year-old post I made about the band. At least, I'm inclined to believe it was Chris Phillips and not an impostor commenting on one of my first blog posts ever from mid-2005 pretending to be Chris Phillips. . . um, not likely I think. While not as exciting as, say, meeting Terry Gilliam last year, the virtual presence of the drummer of my 2nd favourite Chapel Hill band (hint: #1 band has the initials BFF) had me beaming momentarily. The current line-up of Zippers is Jimbo Mathus, Katharine Whalen, Chris Phillips, Stu Cole, Je Widenhouse and Will Dawson, who I'm led to believe was the last recording/touring line-up from 2000. From their press release: "Life is mysterious. You never know when something might appear or disappear. Take it while you can get it, because for now, it's the Squirrel Nut Zippers."

The ol' "good things come to those who wait" seems appropriate here. My favourite bands that have reunited over the past couple years: Harvey Danger, The Presidents of the United States of America, The Philosopher Kings... and now tack on the Zippers to that list. I've said it before and I'll say it again, still waiting for Moxy Fruvous to rise out of the ashes of their "hiatus" which is 7 years and counting.

On a not-so-happy note, key ex-band member Tom Maxwell will not be among the newly reunited Zippers. Maxwell is responsible for writing their big hit Hell, among a flurry of other great Zipper songs. From a recent blog post on his mySpace: "Most of you are probably aware that my relationship with most of my former bandmates is sour, and continues to be litigous. I don't wish any of them ill will, but sure as f*ck wouldn't step back on stage with them." Please continue to read his full post to see why (understandably) SNZ is the least important thing imaginable and why the band is dead to him. Ken Mosher is another familiar band member who will have nothing to do with the latest incarnation of the band. Actually, Maxwell and Mosher both quit the band in 1999, an album and tour before the rest of the band broke up. The SNZ saga is outlined in quite tragic detail in this article.

Related links:
A recent SNZ article on their upcoming gigs can be found here.
The Official website is now back online here
The Official Zipper mySpace is also up here.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Do It This Way
Squirrel Nut Zippers - Evening at Lafitte's
Squirrel Nut Zippers - Got My Own Thing Now
Squirrel Nut Zippers - Bedlam Ballroom
Squirrel Nut Zippers - The Ghost of Stephen Foster (live from Sessions at West 54th)

Jeff Warren - Galang-al (Trou Macacq) [SNZ vs. M.I.A.]
Quite possibly the only Zippers mash-up.

And for your cover fix, in the spirit of band reunions:

Mel Tormé - Happy Together [originally by The Turtles]
Konishi Yasuharu - I Want You Back (readymade 524 mix) [remix of the Jackson 5]
Steel Train - I Want You Back [originally by the Jackson 5]

Katharine Whalen - Want You Back
Not a cover, but apropos nonetheless. This solo effort is from the only female Squirrel Nut Zipper's 2006 album Dirty Little Secret.

...and in the spirit of bitter band break-ups:

The Jeff Healey Band - Communication Breakdown [originally by Led Zeppelin]
Matchbox 20 - Never Going Back Again [originally by Fleetwood Mac]
The Canadian Brass - You Never Give Me Your Money [originally by The Beatles]

2007 will also see David Lee Roth return to Van Halen and The Police back together too. Lesson: never say never!