Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's Oh So Quiet...

Coming up Monday March 31st, Stereogum is releasing its latest exclusive tribute album. Following up on last year's Radiohead and REM tributes, they've assembled 11 artists covering Björk's 1995 album Post. While I had been peripherally aware of Björk as Icelandic and swan-clad, besides hearing Venus as a Boy in the film Léon it wasn't really until I got the Directors Label DVDs of the work of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry (brilliant DVD, by the way), and Chris Cunningham that I was properly exposed to her music. I didn't exactly become instant fan... but there are some great music videos including Spike Jonze's video for It's Oh So Quiet, where the loud/quiet structure translates the mundane into a fantasy retro musical number. The moment with the mailbox... well that's just pure joy right there!

Though it became her biggest hit, Björk vaguely regrets doing it because as it turns out It's Oh So Quiet is in fact (gasp!) a cover song. Written by Hans Lang and Bert Reisfeld, the song originally titled Blow a Fuse was performed by Betty Hutton in 1948. Like the covering a cover phenomenon of Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah, all the covers of the song are of Björk's version, so much so that even a 2005 Betty Hutton compilation uses the new title.

Betty Hutton - Blow a Fuse
If you thought the shrieking was just a Björk quirk, you'll find she's actually fairly faithful to the original. It sounds like a Broadway musical number, but it's not, at least as far as I can tell using the surprising lack of google-able information on the matter.

Björk - It's Oh So Quiet
So says Björk in a 2002 interview: "The best bit was the video."

The Happy Girls - It's Oh So Quiet
From the film Happy, Texas, a film I would describe as pleasant but completely forgettable. I've seen it but barely even remember this being in the movie though it's ostensibly the climactic musical number that part of the plot revolves around... with the plot being 2 escaped convicts being mistaken for the gay organizers of a children's beauty pageant.

Noise for Pretend - It's Oh So Quiet
From a Björk tribute album, this would be the most drastic interpretation cover of the bunch. Drastic in a good way. This dumps the big band in favour of an eclectic indie pop arrangement.

Lucy Woodward - It's Oh So Quiet
Pretty much a note-for-note cover of Björk's cover with a different voice. From the soundtrack to The Ice Princess... gee, didn't manage to catch that one.

Lisa Ekdahl - It's Oh So Quiet
This jazz cover eschews the loud and goes the oh so quiet route. I still like it even though it stays pretty subdued throughout.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I Heart Zooey

Yes, here it is, the long delayed Zooey Post. The idea of a post devoted to the music of Zooey Deschanel has been brewing for a couple years now, unconsciously awaiting a full-length Zooey CD to emerge. Under the moniker of She & Him, her collaboration with indie folk artist M. Ward entitled Volume 1, a title which tantalizingly foresees future recordings, hit stores yesterday on one of those magic new music Tuesdays. Next week will prove to be even more magical as new albums from Raconteurs, Danny Michel, and Supergrass all hit on the same day! But for now, back to Zooey.

I've been entranced with Zooey Deschanel ever since Almost Famous when she leaned down, looked directly in the camera with big googly eyes, and said:

"One day... you'll be cool."

...parting words to her younger brother William as she left home to become a stewardess. She also leaves a treasure trove of LPs behind for him: Pet Sounds, Zeppelin II, Axis: Bold as Love, The Who's Tommy... what's not to love? Mainstream audiences first got a taste of her singing talents in the 2003 Will Ferrell hit Elf, the soundtrack of which features her in a duet with Leon Redbone on the standard Baby, It's Cold Outside. Other things you may recognize her from:
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as Trillian
  • Bridge to Terabithia as a elementary school music teacher (contrary to its baffling ad campaign, a surprisingly moving film)
  • a guest stint on Weeds
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (she sings in this too)
She'll be seen next in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, but a planned Janis Joplin biopic with Zooey in the lead role seems to be on indefinite hold. While she has sometimes been relegated to "quirky best friend" supporting roles in movies like The Good Girl and Failure to Launch, she has also had prominent lead roles in several indie films such as All the Real Girls, Eulogy, Winter Passing, and The Go-Getter. The Go-Getter's soundtrack was composed by M. Ward (of whom I know absolutely nothing about) and her involvement in that project is ultimately what would lead to the She & Him collaboration. For that soundtrack, the director Martin Hynes suggested Zooey and M. Ward perform a duet together, which would end up being a cover of Richard & Linda Thompson's When I Get to the Border. Apparently good times were had by all and soon M. Ward was listening to her demos. Thus, She & Him were born.

Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone - Baby, It's Cold Outside [originally by Frank Loesser]
M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel - When I Get to the Border [originally by Richard & Linda Thompson]

Hearing her croon on Baby, It's Cold Outside was a revelation, but my fascination with Zooey Deschanel was further sparked when I found out she performed in a jazz cabaret act with fellow actress Samantha Shelton called If All The Stars Were Pretty Babies. To my knowledge, they only performed in clubs in Los Angeles. While there are no official recordings of If All the Stars... there are a couple clips floating around and a 1926 recording (cover, no less!) of the song that inspired their act's name.

The Green Brothers' Novelty Band - If All the Stars Were Pretty Babies (And I Was a Moon In The Moon) [originally by Fred Fisher and Billy Rose] [via]

Zooey Deschanel & Samantha Shelton - Walk Right Back [originally by The Everly Brothers]
Zooey Deschanel & Samantha Shelton - Stormy Weather [originally by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler]

Zooey Deschanel - Dream a Little Dream of Me [originally by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt]
Zooey performed this at an Erin Fetherston fashion show gig. Apparently, she models for her as well.

Zooey Deschanel - Hello Dolly [originally by Jerry Herman]
From the short film Raving directed by Julia Stiles, Zooey's penchant for singing jazz standards is once again on display.

M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel - Bring It On Home to Me [originally by Sam Cooke]
M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel - Magic Trick
From a live radio session last summer before they adopted the name She & Him. Neither of these songs ended up on the final album, though I'm a fan of both.

Coconut Records - Slowly
Coconut Records - Ask Her to Dance
Last year, one of my favourite albums was Coconut Records, the solo project by actor Jason Schwartzman, a former boyfriend of Zooey. On the album, she contributes some background vocals to these two tracks.

Expect to hear more from Zooey Deschanel later this year. It's been 3 years since Ben Lee announced his Mix Tape project, in which a remarkable assembly of guest artists perform songs he's composed. On the menu: Neil Finn, Kylie Minogue, Ben Folds, the eels, Gomez, Ash, Nina Persson, Zooey, Sean Lennon, Maria Taylor, New Buffalo, Sleepy Jackson... and more. While I had vaguely given up hope of even hearing this, in a blog entry from last October, Ben describes the project as his own "personal 'Apocalypse Now!' taking me about 5 years to finish". All signs point to a release in 2008.

Last weekend, She & Him performed one of their rare tour dates at SXSW. Go to The Smudge of Ashen Fluff to hear three tracks they performed for the radio from their album: This is Not a Test, Black Hole, and Change is Hard.

Also, you can sample whole album here. Some promising reviews from The AV Club and Pitchfork... not that anything could really stop me from buying the record anyway.

Surprisingly one of the best, most up-to-date sources for Zooey Deschanel news of all sorts (including several of these mp3s) is a 4-year old thread run amok on The Fashion Spot forums. Kudos to them!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Whoa, New Raconteurs album next week!

Hey, Happy St. Patrick's Day, which has absolutely no relevance to me except for wearing green to avoid getting punched by strangers (Secret Fear #27).

Wasn't going to post today, but just read this on the AV Club newswire:
Out of the blue, The Raconteurs second album titled Consolers Of The Lonely will be released NEXT TUESDAY.

"The album was mastered and completed in the first week of March. It was then taken immediately to a vinyl pressing plant. Then to a CD pressing plant. Then preparations to sell it digitally began. March 25th became the soonest date to have it available in EVERY FORMAT AT ONCE. The band have done no interviews or advertisements for this record before this announcement. The purpose: to get the album to the fans as soon as possible and as we promised. We wanted to get this record to fans, the press, radio, etc., all at the EXACT SAME TIME so that no one has an upper hand on anyone else regarding it’s availability, reception or perception."

Awesome, awesome news, as if there weren't enough March releases to keep on top of lately. Also in the press release, they say there will be no bonus tracks on different releases. Ha, take that, iTunes exclusive tracks you can't get even if you already own the actual album. Maybe they learned with the whole White Stripes Conquest 10 formats/versions debacle that it's not very nice to milk your loyal fans.

WHOA, SUPER EDIT (3/18/08): I just found out they're kicking off their tour here in Vancouver April 20th at the Commodore Ballroom!!!

The Raconteurs - Teenage Kicks [originally by The Undertones]
It's fitting that Jack White & Co. covered this song for last year's BBC 40th anniversary cover album. Teenage Kicks was John Peel's all-time favourite song and he, of course, was an early champion of The White Stripes as they were starting off.

Corinne Bailey Rae - Steady, As She Goes [originally by The Raconteurs]
This Corinne Bailey Rae cover is definitely worth revisiting. From the same BBC album, representing the year 2006.

The Raconteurs - Yellow Sun/I've Got a Feeling (live)
They do a bit of a tease of The Beatles' I've Got a Feeling in this live version of Yellow Sun, a Raconteurs song which bears some vague similarities to the original in the first place.

The Raconteurs - The Bane Rendition
One of my favourite Raconteurs tracks is actually an instrumental B-side to Steady, As She Goes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paging Dahilling!

I'm looking for a reader who commented as "dahilling"... because guess what? You're one of the winners Play Radio Play's new CD Texas and a poster to boot! Except I need just a wee bit more information from you! Send me an e-mail as soon as possible. Everyone else, carry on!

Seattle Wrap-Up

So last weekend I took a dreadfully long bus from Vancouver down to Seattle. Typically I think the drive should be 2.5 to 3 hours, but due to extraneous stops, a hold-up at the border, and arriving in Seattle in rush hour it was a long, stuffy 5 hours. I stayed at the lovely Green Tortoise Hostel (cheap, clean, convenient, free breakfast!), right across the street from the famed Pike Place Market. Even better was that the two Harvey Danger shows I was going to were at the Triple Door, just around the corner less than 2 blocks away. A quick recap: Harvey Danger was performing over the course of two nights all three of their albums in their entirety and a set of b-sides/rarities. Their sophomore release King James Version, which I bought for 99 cents several years ago in a HMV bargain bin, is one of my favourite albums of all-time.

It truly was a celebration of all things Harvey Danger, in honour of the 10th anniversary of their first album which spawned the hit Flagpole Sitta. The band came decked out in semi-formal attire with flowers on their lapels. They had a bevy of special guests singing back-up, a horn section at one point, and someone playing the funkiest electric cello. In total, I counted up to 15 individual guests just on the first night. A very cool moment: the dad of their former drummer Evan Sult (who's in another band in Chicago) played banjo on their cover of This Busy Monster's Underground, just as he did on the original album. The sound was excellent, though the venue had a surreal dinner theatre-like vibe. It's not often you sit at a candle-lit table at a rock show... They made a commemorative booklet "Harvey Danger's 10th Anniversary Public Spectacle" with liner notes from all the band members (and former drummer) reminiscing and telling stories about basically every song on every album and then some.

Cover-wise, my favourite moment was when the organ-intro from HD's cover of Bowie's Oh! You Pretty Things kicked in.... SWWWEEEEEeeeetness. They also played their cover of Save It For Later, which I found out that night they had never played live because they were tricked into recording it for the awful movie 200 Cigarettes. Basically they were asked to cover a 1981-82 era song, so the band submitted suggestions for Devo, Bowie, XTC, and Duran Duran, but the label demanded an English Beat cover. After the fact, they found out that the label was re-releasing the English Beat catalogue and their cover version, featured on the soundtrack and end credits, was intended to bring the English Beat to a new generation...? Something like that.

Harvey Danger - Save It For Later [originally by The English Beat]

After the 2nd show, I asked Sean Nelson about the status/whereabouts of his Harry Nilsson tribute album Nelson Sings Nilsson, which for a couple years has been limited to some myspace tracks and demos. "Oh, that's a long and painful story," he told me, but he assured me the project was not dead despite all signs to the contrary. Even if he has to put it up on his website, he said it will be released someday, somehow. Victory! GREAT things come to those who wait.

The opening group for both shows was a group who called themselves Alaska/Nebraska featuring Eric Howk and Jacob Hoffman from fellow Seattle-ites The Lashes. One's from Nebraska and one's from Alaska, hence the name which was informally chosen to grace the poster. Even though they ended up playing pretty much the exact same set both nights, we were simply treated to their beautiful folk ballads twice, captivating the crowd even though many of us were at both shows. As you can see in the photo, guitarist/vocalist Eric Howk was wheelchair-bound, a fact that I normally wouldn't think twice about, except that in summer 2006 I saw the Lashes open for The Living End in Toronto, a set particularly memorable to me because the Lashes' frontman Ben Clark jumped off the stage to dance, crushing my toes. When I got back to Vancouver, I was shocked to read that last May while at a party at a friend's house, Eric fell into a 12-feet deep hole left unsecured by the neighbouring lot which was under construction, an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Eric, who was named for guitarist Eric Clapton, has stayed in good spirits since the accident, happy to be alive and still able to play the guitar. He has said, "It's a life change, but not an attitude change." Remarkable. Most of the songs played at The Triple Door can be downloaded from his myspace site Palmer, AK. I've posted a couple of my fav's here, thus sparing you the mind-numbing process of downloading from myspace. "You must be logged in to download" + no login button + crazy filenames once downloaded = annoying.
Palmer, AK - Noelly
Palmer, AK - Goodtime

A couple days ago I stumbled on a treasure trove of cover songs celebrating Seattle. Last August was the centennial anniversary of the Pike Place Market and to celebrate, they organized a 4-hour concert featuring Seattle-based artists performing covers of Seattle-famous songs! Streamed and archived on Seattle Channel, I got all the songs here though I apologize for the somewhat low volume levels.

The "house band" called The Iconics was made up of Dave Dederer and Andrew McKeag, guitarists from the Presidents of the United States of America; Mike Musberger, drummer for The Posies and The Fastbacks; Jeff Fielder, bassist from Sera Cahoone; and Ty Bailie, keyboard player from Department of Energy. Throughout the night they were joined by other featured guests.

Download a zip of all the songs here. Um, except Angel of the Morning will have to be downloaded separately because it was hiding when I made the zip file...

The Iconics - Seattle [popularized by Perry Como]
(feat. Paul Jensen of the Dudley Manlove Quartet)

The Iconics - Tall Cool One [originally by The Wailers]

The Iconics - Angel of the Morning [originally by Merrilee Rush]
(feat. Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger)
As you might have guessed, my stumbling upon this concert was purely because of looking up something Harvey Danger-related.

The Iconics - Spoonman [originally by Soundgarden]
(feat. Artis the Spoonman and Rachel Flotard of Visqueen)

The Iconics - I Don't Like Your Face [originally by The Heats]
(feat. Paul Jensen of the Dudley Manlove Quartet)

The Iconics - The Witch [originally by The Sonics]
(feat. Evan Foster of the Boss Martians)

The Iconics - What'd I Say [originally by Ray Charles]
(feat. Patrinella Wright of the Total Experience Gospel Choir)

The Iconics - The Old Settler [traditional; written by written by Francis D. Henry]
(feat. John Roderick of The Long Winters)

The Iconics - The Day Brings [originally by Brad]
(feat. Shawn Smith of Brad and Mike McCready and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam)

The Iconics - Little Wing [originally by Jimi Hendrix]
(feat. Shawn Smith, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready)
It never occurred to me that Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle, having always associated him with... well, not Seattle in any case. But I found out from a Seattlelite that yes, Jimi was born here and buried in a Seattle suburb. During my visit I got to mess around with an electric guitar at the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project and stop by this Hendrix statue near Broadway & Pine streets.

The Iconics - Spanish Castle Magic [originally by Jimi Hendrix]
(feat. John Roderick & Mike McCready)

The Iconics - Rock & Roll Pest Control [originally by The Young Fresh Fellows]
(feat. Chris Ballew of The Presidents of the United States of America)

The Iconics - Louie Louie [originally by Richard Berry]
(feat. Chris Ballew)

The Iconics - Barracuda [originally by Heart]
(feat. Choklate)

Mike McCready & Chris Friel - Star Spangled Banner [originally by Francis Scott Key]
I didn't know this until now but the American national anthem is set to the tune of an old drinking song. Very curious! Here, Mike McCready channels Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock incarnation of the anthem.

Chris Ballew - Peaches
An impromptu solo a cappella version of the hit for The Presidents of the United States of America.

Speaking of POTUSA, they just released a new album last week called These are Good Times People (with an aggressive internet marketing campaign). It's also got a nifty flip book music video for the lead single Mixed Up S.O.B. directed by Weird Al Yankovic, though it clearly wasn't meant to be watch on youtube or myspaceTV.

The Presidents of the United States of America - Froggie
My all-time fav POTUSA song.

Highlights of the weekend:

  • I found out that a couple days ago Sean Nelson joined none other than Jonathan Coulton at the super-hyped SXSW festival on the Heather Gold show, playing a Billy Joel cover! They promise audio and video soon, but for now check out Heather Gold and JoCo covering Harvey Danger's Flagpole Sitta reading lyrics off an iPhone, heh heh. It's been over a year, but we're still waiting on Harvey Danger's cover of JoCo's Code Monkey...
  • the session on a cruise that Sean Nelson performed with the Barenaked Ladies' Steven Page celebrating the solo music of Paul McCartney is on DIME as a DVD torrent!!! Brilliant. There were some special guests too like Sarah Harmer dropping by to perform Mull of Kintyre. If you have one of those elusive DIME accounts (like me, bwa ha!), then I definitely recommend that.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happi π Day!

Pi pie baked by VROG in Bristol!

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel...

Yep, it's Pi Day today. Go forth, eat pie, be merry.

Hard 'n Phirm - Pi
We kick off the celebrations with pretty much the greatest π song ever, a staple of Pi Day posts for many years to come. Also check out the hilarious Keith Schofield-directed music video, which is where I first heard the song.

Hard 'n Phirm - Rodeohead [a medley of Radiohead songs]
From the same album as Pi and available on CD Baby, this distant relative of the Weird Al polka is both a funny and brilliant bluegrass medley of Radiohead songs.

This piece of π art is by the wholly remarkable Daniel Tammet, a high-functioning autistic savant who once set the European record in 2004 for reciting digits of pi from memory: 22,514 digits in just over 5 hours in a charity event. The subject of an engrossing British TV documentary called Brainman (highly recommended), Tammet can speak 11 languages including Icelandic, which he was challenged to learn in one week as part of the program. One of the more curious aspects of his abilities is that he sees numbers in his head as colours, shapes, and textures. When answering mind-boggling math equations or reciting pi, he isn't exactly calculating... but rather the answers just appear as visual landscapes in his head. The picture above is how he sees pi. This is where Keanu would say "Whoa."

Unbelievably, the unofficial world record for reciting pi digits is 100,000 recited over 16.5 hours in Tokyo by a retired Japanese engineer, Akira Haraguchi.

In lieu of re-posting the same π songs every year-- with the exception of Hard 'n Phirm's Pi which WILL be posted every year-- I started thinking about how to incorporate some covers into the mix. And the circular imagery of the Oscar-winning Windmills of Your Mind is a perfect fit. The song was written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Michel Legrand for the 1968 Norman Jewison film The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Originally performed by Noel Harrison, when the movie was remade in 1999 with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in the leads, the song was also covered for the new soundtrack by Sting.

Dusty Springfield - The Windmills of Your Mind
Arguably the most well-known version of the song.

Dorothy Ashby - The Windmills of Your Mind
Awesome jazz-funk instrumental cover by jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby.

Sting - The Windmills of Your Mind

Tina Arena - The Windmills of Your Mind
An excellent track from her 2007 cover album Songs of Love and Loss.

Oh yeah, free swag blah blah blah here. Winners will be picked on Sunday.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Digital Love

Is it my imagination or has there recently been an influx of covers of Daft Punk's Digital Love? I hadn't heard any cover prior to about three weeks ago and now I seem to find a new one every week. Following last weekend's Dermot O'Leary show, I've got a fourth one to add to the list and a mash-up. This is great because I'm not really a fan of Daft Punk in the first place, but Digital Love is the one song I do love (digitally?).

Alphabeat - Digital Love (live on Dermot O'Leary) [originally by Daft Punk]
Miracle Fortress - Digital Love [originally by Daft Punk]
Mobius Band - Digital Love [originally by Daft Punk]
Situationists - Digital Love (XFM session) [originally by Daft Punk]

Ben Double M - I Want Your Digital Love [Jackson 5 vs. Daft Punk]
Lots more Ben Double M mash-ups here.

By the way, did you all catch the New Pornographers perform on a French show called Taratata? Click this link and access the video section to see them perform My Rights vs. Yours and a cover of ELO's Don't Bring Me Down. Perhaps a little too faithful, but I like the cover anyway. Not sure what's the deal with artists going to France to perform ELO covers (see: Lily Allen's Mr. Blue Sky), but I'm all for it!

The New Pornographers - Don't Bring Me Down [originally by Electric Light Orchestra]

Also, don't forget to enter my PlayRadioPlay! giveaway for one of two CD/poster packages. Winners will be picked on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

PlayRadioPlay! Giveaway! Yay!

I'm back from my Harvey Danger excursion. In a word: awesome. In many words: I can't even begin to describe and I'm pressed for time. I will probably post on that later this week. But right now, an old friend from Edmonton is in town (via Eindhoven) for a few days so blogging's on hold for a bit. Except for this swag giveaway!

I didn't realize March was a hotbed of album releases but there are a handful of albums coming out today or in the coming weeks that I'm eagerly awaiting. The Ditty bops, POTUSA's super comeback special, the latest from Fong Songs fav Danny Michel (more on that in a future post), and the Zooey Deschanel/M. Ward collab She & Him (I swear I will write this post someday!). And next Tuesday, PlayRadioPlay! has a new album.

Last week I posted PlayRadioPlay's cover of Mr. Brightside and at the time all I knew was that he was a one-man electronic band from Aledo, Texas (as opposed to the Five Man Electrical Band from Ottawa). A little googling and listening later, I learned the curious tale of the 18-year old Dan Hunter who went from Myspace phenomenon to playing at Warped Tour and touring with Fall Out Boy. There's lots more to this story, which reminds me of another Texan Ben Kweller who also signed on to a label while still in high school, but I really have to wrap this up and get back to not neglecting my house guest. And in case you're wondering like I was, the name PlayRadioPlay! is derived from the Smashing Pumpkins song I of the Mourning.

So, free swag! In conjunction with PRP's promotions people, we've got a PlayRadioPlay CD/poster package to giveaway to two lucky readers! And lest you think I've sold my soul for a doughnut, this is an artist I do support and have in fact pre-ordered his new album, aptly named Texas, from Newbury Comics (only $8.99 with a signed booklet for limited time). If you want to win the CD/poster package, send an e-mail with your name and contact info to fongobongo (at) gmail (dot) com or just leave a comment in this post. Whatever works for you. I'll pick winners on Sunday night.

Here's his new video for the lead single Madi Don't Leave, which is clearly inspired by the hand-crafted look of Michel Gondry's brilliant music videos.

Heck, you can download the song itself here

I also recommend you check out his youtube cover of The Zombies' The Way I Feel Inside.

Upcoming PlayRadioPlay! shows, touring with Yellowcard and Spill Canvas:

3/11 Chicago, IL Metro
3/12 Lansing, MIMac's Bar
3/13 Detroit, MI Majestic Theater
3/14 Cleveland, OH House of Blues
3/15 New York, NY Irving Plaza
3/16 Boston, MA Middle East
3/17 Philadelphia, PA Trocadero
3/19 Baltimore, MD Recher
3/20 Greensboro, NC Green Street
3/21 Atlanta, GA Masquerade
3/22 Orlando, FL House of Blues
3/24 Tampa, FL State Theater
3/25 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Culture Room
3/26 Tallahassee, FL The Beta Bar
3/28 New Orleans, LA House of Blues
3/29 Austin, TX Emo's
3/30 Dallas, TX Granada Theater
3/31 Albuquerque, NM Sunshine Theater
4/03 Boise, ID Big Easy
4/04 Seattle, WA El Corazon
4/05 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theater
4/06 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall
4/08 Ventura, CA Ventura Theater
4/10 Las Vegas, NV House of Blues
4/11 San Diego, CA House of Blues
4/12 Los Angeles, CA House of Blues
4/13 Pomona, CA The Glass House
4/14 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theater

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Spirit of Freeform Radio

I was going to take the rest of the week off from blogging since I'm off tomorrow to Seattle for the Harvey Danger 2-day extravaganza, but I just had to pass these next few covers along. The past week and a half has been the 2008 fundraising marathon at popular freeform radio station WFMU. This is the 50th anniversary of the station which is based in New Jersey, though honestly I'm more familiar with them from their blog of music & curiosities started in 2004, WFMU's Beware of the Blog. On Sunday, Yo La Tengo was in-studio to play cover requests for pledges. I missed it due to some incompetent time zone calculations, but it can already be found online if you're somewhat determined. Last night I did manage to record The Best Show on WFMU hosted by Tom Scharpling, who as part of the pledge drive welcomed guests Ted Leo, Ben Gibbard, and Patton Oswalt.

Ted Leo - The Spirit of Radio [originally by Rush]
Ted Leo appropriately kicked off the proceedings with this solo Rush cover, a song inspired by an Ontario free-form radio station in the late 70's, CFNY, whose slogan was "The Spirit of Radio". Somewhat ironically, it's now just your standard modern rock station 102.1 The Edge. Ted Leo channels Tom Waits in place of the Words of the profits.../Concert hall! section. Coincidentally, covers of Way Down in the Hole, used as the theme to The Wire, can be found in a recent post at The Late Greats.

Ted Leo - Union City Blue [originally by Blondie]
At one point, Tom Scharpling asked Ted, "Aren't you going to play any of your own songs?"

Ben Gibbard - Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) [originally by The Monkees; written by Neil Diamond]
This is the sort of song that confounds those of us posting covers... "originally" by the songwriter or performer? Ben dedicated this cover to Mickey Dolenz whose birthday is coming up on March 8th. The only reason I know that is because the very next episode on Coverville is going to be a Monkees cover story!

Ben Gibbard & Ted Leo - Porcupine Pie [originally by Neil Diamond]
Neil Diamond can take FULL credit for this lemon. Host Tom Scharpling has called this "The Worst Song in the History of Mankind", so it's only fitting that Ben and Ted cover this on his show.

Ben Gibbard, Ted Leo, Tom Scharpling, & Patton Oswalt - Take a Chance on Me [originally by ABBA]
The big finale on the show was four guys singing a goofy ABBA cover out of key. Not particularly inspiring, but pretty funny. As they chant take-a-chance-take-a-chance-take-a-chance throughout, I couldn't help thinking of my favourite misheard lyric of all-time. Someone thought ABBA was singing jackie-chan-jackie-chan-jackie-chan-jackie-chan-jackie-chan...

Marathon '08 continues until Sunday!

  • Couldn't get their banner to work, so pledges can be made here.
  • Photos and article about show on Pitchfork
  • Full show available as a realmedia and mp3 streams for the next week in the WFMU archives.
  • **UPDATE: videos of some of these songs here

Monday, March 03, 2008

We'll Miss You, Jeff Healey

I was saddened to learn today that Canadian blues rock and jazz musician Jeff Healey passed away yesterday after a prologued bout with cancer at the age of 41. I was oblivious to the fact that he had been fighting cancer for over a year, so this came as quite a shock. A candid, yet positive note to fans last September regarding his treatments can be read here. Blind due to a rare form of cancer since he was a baby, he learned guitar at age 3 and developed a distinct style of playing with the guitar in his lap. Known primarily as a rock guitarist in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughan, in recent years he's pursued his true love of 20's/30's jazz with three albums distributed by Edmonton-based indie label Stony Plain Records: Among Friends, Adventures in Jazzland, and It's Tight Like That (with guest Chris Barber). When he wasn't touring, he hosted a jazz show on local Toronto station JAZZ.FM and performed as part of the house band at Jeff Healey's Roadhouse, a live music venue named after his role alongside Patrick Swayze in the cult 80's film Road House.

I saw him years ago perform alongside Ronnie Hawkins at a baseball game in Edmonton (baseball in Edmonton-- weird thought, eh?). In 2005, I brought my dad to see Jeff Healey & The Jazz Wizards at the intimate 500-seat Arden Theatre in St. Albert, a city just north of Edmonton city limits. In addition to being a phenomenal guitar player, Jeff also plays trumpet and clarinet. It was a wonderful night of joyous jazz standards with the band exchanging solos, chatting with the audience, and having as much fun on stage as we were out in the crowd. Following the show, the whole band was in the lobby to sign autographs and mingle with fans.

Over the years, he's done a bunch of covers including a great version of While My Gently Weeps and a full cover album in 1995, Cover to Cover. A new album Mess of Blues to be released next month was going to be his first rock/blues album in 8 years and looks to have some covers on there including The Weight. Here are some of his other covers with his Jeff Healey Band and jazz standards with his Jazz Wizards. He will be missed.

The Jeff Healey Band - Harvest [originally by Neil Young]
The Jeff Healey Band - While My Guitar Gently Weeps [originally by The Beatles]
The Jeff Healey Band - Run Through the Jungle [originally by Creedence Clearwater Revival]
The Jeff Healey Band - Communication Breakdown [originally by Led Zeppelin]

Jeff Healey - You're Driving Me Crazy [originally by Walter Donaldson]
Jeff Healey - My Blackbirds are Bluebirds Now [originally by Irving Caesar & Cliff Friend]

Terra Hazelton - Let's Do It [originally by Cole Porter]
Terra Hazelton - Ain't He Sweet? [originally "Ain't She Sweet?" by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen]
That show in St. Albert featured jazz vocalist Terra Hazelton as a member of the Jazz Wizards. That year Jeff Healey produced and played on her debut album Anybody's Baby, which also featured backing by the Jazz Wizards. After visiting her website, I found out she has a new album due soon and she's trying to reach 500 pre-orders by March 15th. Some special guest include Toronto jazz vocalist Alex Pangman, Drew Jurecka (of the Jazz Wizards), and the Valleau brothers (of the Polyjesters). Listen to some of her other stuff on her myspace page.

Queen Bitches & Mr. Brightsides

David Bowie's Queen Bitch, from his classic 1971 album Hunky Dory, experienced a revival of sorts when it was featured in the trailer for Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic in 2004, which is admittedly when I first heard and fell in love with the song. I've definitely noticed a heightened exposure to the song in the past couple years, whether it's heard as pre-show music before a concert, an influx of covers, or its inclusion in last year's Rock Band as a downloadable track. Not since ELO's Mr. Blue Sky can I think of a 1970's "lost classic" heavily re-immersed into pop culture consciousness via advertising.

Surely we've all been at parties where The Killers' Mr. Brightside comes on and some snarky individual says "Oh, they totally ripped off Queen Bitch", where said individual was born 12 years after Hunky Dory was even released. I've been at one of those parties and sadly that person was me. There's a tradition of me pooh-poohing modern rock radio hits. When Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out came out, I was all "Oh, this totally rips off Zeppelin's Trampled Underfoot" and when Gorillaz' Feel Good Inc. came out, I was all "U2's Staring at the Sun. Rip-off." Don't get me wrong, I do still like all of these songs intentionally derivative or not. I've since matured (read: stopped caring) when I hear vaguely similar songs. Lyrically, thematically, and rhythmically there are very strong similarities between Mr. Brightside and Queen Bitch, even though the music itself it quite different. Listen to each song and their covers repeatedly and you'll start confusing lyrics. When I first started hearing about the Killers, I seem to recall David Bowie being cited as an influence or that the band was a glam rock throwback. They've even covered Moonage Daydream in concert, so I don't think it's any stretch to say Mr. Brightside is an homage or tip of the hat to Queen Bitch, which itself is Bowie's homage to The Velvet Underground. The distinct riff that drives Queen Bitch is ripped off of Eddie Cochran's Three Steps to Heaven anyway, so everyone's off the hook! As I like to say in these sorts of situations, Led Zeppelin ripped off everyone and we're all the better for it.

I usually don't like the carpet bomb approach to posting lots of covers of the same song, but I make exceptions for David Bowie.


David Bowie (BBC Sessions) - Queen Bitch

David Bowie with Lou Reed - Queen Bitch
From David Bowie's 50th birthday bash.

The Arcade Fire with David Bowie - Queen Bitch (live)
At the beginning of this bootleg from a Arcade Fire show in Central Park, frontman Win Butler says "This is a David Bowie song" and the familiar strums of Queen Bitch begin. Right at that point (I've seen video of this), David Bowie himself struts on from off-stage to sing lead vocals and the crowd goes justifiably nuts. It's really too bad the quality is so poor on this almost-cover. If you can get past the piercing shrieks, you can hear what just might be the only string arrangement of this song. Guess you had to be there.

Seu Jorge - Queen Bitch
The soundtrack to The Life Aquatic is full of Bowie songs and covers, the latter performed brilliantly in Portuguese by singer/actor Seu Jorge who was also in the film as part of Steve Zissou's crew. While five of his covers were featured on the soundtrack, a separate album The Life Aquatic Sessions had 13 covers (different recordings of the previous tracks) and the wonderful original song Team Zissou. The iTunes version also has a bonus Space Oddity cover. Seu Jorge did all the translations himself and this site has some of the songs translated back to English. The results are little surprising. For example, Five Years is completely rewritten to relate to Steve Zissou's life. Life on Mars? has been re-interpreted as well with intriguing lyrics. Very cool stuff. Seu Jorge, decked out in a tuque and tux, has a mesmerizing performance of Queen Bitch over the end credits of the movie.

Green River - Queen Bitch
R. Mutt - Queen Bitch

The Tragically Hip - Queen Bitch (live in London)
Why The Hip, considered Canadian rock legends, never hit it big down south is a little baffling.

The Gourds - Queen Bitch
This alt-country band also does a cover of Ziggy Stardust, though they're probably best known for their cover of Snoop Dogg's Gin & Juice.

Eater - Queen Bitch
Capsize 7 - Queen Bitch

Birdbrain - Queen Bitch
Of all these covers, Birdbrain is the band that overhauls the original the most. Not surprisingly, it's probably the most successful one.

Penis Flytrap - Queen Bitch
Elf Power - Queen Bitch (live)

Zkippy Stardust - Queen Bitch (live)
Whenever I post Bowie covers, I inevitably add some Zkippy Stardust, a Italian Bowie tribute band who had an entire live concert available for download at one point. "Tribute band" generally has a pejorative connotation attached to it, but these guys sound great and the recording quality is excellent.



The Killers - Mr. Brightside (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Mix)
Here's another Bowie connection: a Mr. Brightside remix by high profile musician/producer Stuart Price AKA Jacques Lu Cont AKA the Thin White Duke. Of course, the Thin White Duke was originally one of the personas adopted by David Bowie for the album Station to Station. Stuart Price's wikipedia entry is an interesting read for someone so prominent that I've only vaguely heard of. Did you know he's won two grammies in the category of Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical? Didn't even know that was a category.

Paul Anka - Mr. Brightside
During my adventures in film studies, I repeatedly saw the 1962 NFB documentary Lonely Boy, which follows Paul Anka's transformation into a teen idol. In fact, I once wrote an essay analyzing the film and blabbing about the contrast between American/Canadian ideals. Um, no, I don't really miss writing essays. It's quite astounding that 46 years later he's revived his career, pulling a Pat Boone, with TWO albums of big band swing covers of unlikely pop/rock songs.

McFly - Mr. Brightside
This British band performs so many covers, there's an entire subsection in their wiki entry listing their covers.

PlayRadioPlay - Mr. Brightside
A one-man electronic band from Texas.

This Unique Museum - Mr. Brightside
This Unique Museum is UK artist Ben Fitton whose self-described indie lo-fi rock is applied to four covers of the Killers on his EP, Installment One: A Killer, A Murder, A Mystery…. Installment Two: Charms & Grace features covers of Interpol.

Amy MacDonald - Mr. Brightside
This live cover by Scottish singer/songwriter Amy MacDonald is from the Dermot O'Leary show just over a week ago.