Friday, June 26, 2009


I was in the elevator at work and two other passengers were chatting when I overheard: "Apparently Michael Jackson died." "Whaaa....??" I blurted in disbelief. He repeated the bombshell news, but it barely registered as I stepped off the elevator in a daze, heading to the nearest computer to confirm the news. I constantly refreshed the news feeds, some of which were still reporting of his being rushed to hospital. TMZ was the first to report his death, though some held out hope that as a gossip site they weren't the most reliable source. The tweets I followed were a mix of shock and denial with the most useful updates were coming from @BreakingNews. An hour or so later, the LA Times confirmed without a doubt the King of Pop died.

Tributes and pre-written obituaries have popped up everywhere. Jian Ghomeshi has a nice piece on the mess of conflicts faced by media and public alike in paying tribute. Yep, every blurb comes with an asterisk, disclaimer, or Big But and I'm no different. Eccentricities and controversies aside, Michael Jackson was an incredible talent and performer whose legacy and influence are undeniable.

We pay tribute here at Fong Songs the only way we know how, with a sampling of some of my favourite MJ covers, remixes, and mash-ups.

Heath Brandon - Billie Jean [originally by Michael Jackson]

Neil Finn - Billie Jean [originally by Michael Jackson]

The Lost Fingers - Billie Jean [originally by Michael Jackson]
Originally the subjects of today's post, I'm going to see these guys tonight on Granville Island as part of the Vancouver Jazz Festival. This MJ cover is from their first album Lost in the 80s, which covered 80s pop, while their sophomore record released less than 2 weeks ago is all French-language covers.

Speak Low - Thriller [originally by Michael Jackson]

J. Viewz - Smooth Criminal [originally by Michael Jackson]

Dick Brave & The Backbeats - Black or White [originally by Michael Jackson]

Transformer di Roboter - Stranger in Moscow [originally by Michael Jackson]

Konishi Yasuharu - I Want You Back (Readymade 524 Mix) [Remix of The Jackson 5]

Ben Double M - I Want Your Digital Love [The Jackson 5 vs. Daft Punk]

MadMixMustang - The Way You Got Me That Feeling [Michael Jackson vs. James Brown]

team9 - Screaming Pro [Michael Jackson vs. Beck]

Bittersweet headline of the day: Thriller inmates saddened over death of Michael Jackson
If you're not one of the 23.5 million viewers of the youtube video, check it out here.

Saddest typo of the day: "Micheal Jackson" as seen on Twitter's Trending Topics

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Whole New World

I've been slacking a bit on the blogging front as I play with my new roommate, a cat named Jaboo I adopted a couple weeks ago. My own charming cat stories are forthcoming. Also, my brand new iMac arrived on Friday and proceeded to consume my whole weekend. Lots of fun. One of the things I've been looking forward to for months, when a new computer was but a tiny seed germinating in the back of my brain, was editing a video of Wall-E and Eve's space dance to the soundtrack of Cubismo Grafico's cover of A Whole New World. This has been an idea I've thought about and been obsessed with ever since I heard this cover from the 2007 Japanese album Lovebeat Disney and realized, whether intentional or not, that the space dance sequence was a 29th century equivalent of the A Whole New World scene from Aladdin. The female vocals of Cubismo Grafico are reminiscent of Eve's distinct digital voice and the whole cover has a futuristic electro vibe in general, which made it a perfect match.

Cubismo Grafico - A Whole New World
[originally performed by Brad Kane and Lea Solonga from Disney's Aladdin]

Mission accomplished:

By the way, Happy Father's Day to all the daddy types out there!

Monday, June 15, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want: The NHL Edition

Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals was last Friday with the Pittsburgh Penguins taking home the Stanley Cup over the reigning champion Detroit Red Wings. One of the many storylines surrounding the series, which was a rematch of last year's finals, concerned forward Marian Hossa who had been with the Penguins during last year's series and had joined the Red Wings in the off-season as a free agent in pursuit of the Cup. In theory, a promising idea since the Red Wings are proven contenders every year, but unfortunately Hossa found out the hard way you can't always get what you want. I imagine it stings that much more to lose to many of his former teammates. Ouch.

Earlier this season the NHL had a nifty ad campaign with several stars literally stepping out of photographs to say a few über-serious words about The Game. This one with the Penguins superstar captain Sidney Crosby is particularly great considering how the finals played out:

And here's a little follow-up spoof I put together a couple days ago for his former teammate Marian Hossa:

Honestly, I feel a little bad for the guy. On the flipside, I have no sympathy (because I'm a bitter old Oiler fan) for Ty Conklin who has unbelievably been in the Stanley Cup Finals (as back-up goaltender) in three of the past four years with three different teams with no Cup ring to show for it. Triple ouch. Coincidentally, another former Oiler goalie Mathieu Garon was traded to the Penguins halfway through this season and got to hoist the Cup before him, heh heh.

Exuma - You Can't Always Get What You Want [originally by The Rolling Stones]

...but sometimes you can get what you want. For a long time I've been meaning to a commission a drawing from Alex Robinson, the most excellent comic book artist of Box Office Poison, Tricked, and Too Cool To Be Forgotten. So last week I finally sent him my proposal for Jane and Stephen, two of his characters from Box Office Poison, to re-enact a notable album cover. Any long-time reader should be able to guess what band's album cover I asked him to "cover". Yesterday I got an e-mail from Alex with a scan of the brilliant result and it'll be in the mail to me today! Check it out! By the way, Alex and fellow comic book artist Mike Dawson (Freddie & Me) have a podcast called The Ink Panthers-- now on iTunes. It's basically two friends riffing on a variety of random topics (i.e. identical triplets, prerequisites to calling oneself a Rush fan, safety of baby bike trailers) without, say, the obnoxiousness of morning radio DJs on a classic rock station. They're only three episodes in and still working out the kinks, but it frequently makes me chuckle maniacally to myself on the bus to work.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ground Control to Major Tom [Re-Post, links removed]

[EDIT: DMCA takedown on the original post... first one in 6 months. Re-posted minus the linkage. No more Bowie I'm guessing.]

Today the sci-fi film Moon is out in limited release, unfortunately not here. I've been really keen on seeing it since hearing some buzz from Sundance, even though I've been avoiding previews and reviews like the swine flu. From what I know, it's about an astronaut (Sam Rockwell) alone on a lunar base nearing the end of his three year contract with his HAL-like computer/robot companion voiced by Kevin Spacey, an appropriate casting choice since he's been nearly unwatchable for the past 10 years. I'm thinking (or hoping for) 2001: A Space Odyssey + robot sidekick from Beneath a Steel Sky meets Space Oddity. Isolation and mindbendiness ensue. It's the debut feature film by director/co-writer Duncan Jones. If that name doesn't ring any bells, he has previously gone by Zowie Bowie. That's right, he is Son of David Bowie. Now if you mentioned that in an interview, would he become belligerent and bring up Tom Petty?

Major Tom has had a storied history in song since being introduced in Bowie's Space Oddity, released a five days before the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969. Bowie also revisited the fictional astronaut in Ashes to Ashes and Hallo Spaceboy. German artist Peter Schilling scored a 1983 hit with Major Tom (Coming Home), which is sort of a sequel song (can you think of others?). More recently, the car company Lincoln built an ad campaign around the Major Tom theme featuring covers of both Space Oddity by Cat Power and Major Tom (Coming Home) by Shiny Toy Guns. Alas, Cat Power only recorded the 30-second cover and there is no full-length version. Is Moon the next chapter of Major Tom's saga, at least in spirit?

Ground control to Major Tom,
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Pitch Black Dream - Space Oddity [originally by David Bowie]
From the now out-of-print CD compilation Spiders from Venus: Women Cover David Bowie. A faithful rendition, but there are enough twists to make it interesting.

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom's a junkie
Strung out in heaven's high
Hitting an all-time low

Kevin Kane - Ashes to Ashes (feat. Veda Hille) [originally by David Bowie]
A stripped down acoustic cover from Vancouver-based artist Kevin Kane's 2001 out-of-print covers album Timmy Loved Judas Priest (it is available digitally on iTunes). He's joined on back-up vocals by local artist Veda Hille.

Tripod - Ashes to Ashes/Space Oddity [originally by David Bowie]
A live medley from Australian comedy music act Tripod.

Back at ground control,
there is a problem.
Go to rockets full;
Not responding.

"Hello Major Tom,
are you receiving?
Turn the thrusters on.
We're standing by."

There's no reply.

Räubertöchter - Major Tom (I'm Coming Home) [originally by Peter Schilling]
A solid punk rock cover from the volume 4 of the Punk Chartbusters series.

Hallo Spaceboy, you're sleepy now
Your silhouette is so stationary
You're released but your custody calls
And I want to be free
Don't you want to be free?

Do you like girls or boys?
It's confusing these days
But Moondust will cover you
Cover you

Pagan's Mind - Hallo Spaceboy [originally by David Bowie]
A throbbing metal cover by Norwegian band Pagan's Mind.

David Bowie - Hallo Spaceboy (Pet Shop Boys Remix)
Pet Shop Boys are coming to Vancouver in September and tickets are on sale today. Though I haven't really listened to any of their new albums in the past 15 years, Discography, one of our family's first CDs, is an all-time favourite. Many of the tracks like Jealousy, Left to My Own Devices, Being Boring, and What Have I Done to Deserve This? get plenty of regular spins on the iPod, not to mention their stellar updates of Always on My Mind and Where the Streets Have No Name. That reminds me of a Pet Shop Boys cover post I've got to do someday. I was debating whether to splurge on a primo seat (they're playing at The Centre) and I'm leaning towards YES. I scoured some recent setlists and I'm satisfied that I'll hear a fair chunk of songs I actually know. Ironically, it's been five years since I missed out on seeing David Bowie in Edmonton by choice. That's my one big concert regret that I keep kicking myself over and the exact point I vowed not to miss concerts for stupid reasons like indecisiveness (or money, ha ha).

Friday, June 05, 2009

On the Summer Concert Plate: New bands, Old Bands, Anniversaries, and a Last Show Ever

My summer of concerts officially got underway in the last few weeks with gigs from Ellen McIlwaine and Danny Michel, but those were just the appetizers. I figured my concert-going in general might be on the decline as my concert bucket list is down to just one hand, though I guess I'm in trouble if Jack White keeps starting new bands. There are some major gigs coming down the pipeline, which makes me glad to be just a quick hop away from Seattle. Expect more on these shows later... but for now, a tasty preview of my summer lineup.

June 26 - The Lost Fingers
June 27 - Alice Russell
June 28 - Ndidi Onukwulu & José González

It'll be a busy concert weekend as I hit back to back to back shows during the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. First up, the Lost Fingers, the Juno nominated gypsy-jazz cover band from Québec I mentioned a few months ago. i (heart) music is still hosting mp3s of a live show recorded for CBC, which includes a cover of Belleville Rendez-Vous from The Triplets of Belleville and much more!

I caught British soul singer Alice Russell at Schuba's in Chicago when I visited in March. Since then, she was invited by David Byrne to sing on his and Fatboy Slim's forthcoming concept album (other singers on the album include Sharon Jones, Tori Amos, Santigold, and Martha Wainwright). She was so good I couldn't pass up seeing her gig here in Vancity!

Lastly I'm going to see local blues singer Ndidi Onukwulu who impressed me during her few songs at the Juno Songwriter's Circle a few months back. She's playing with Swedish indie folk artist José González, who I'm honestly rather indifferent towards even though he's certainly friendly on the cover front.

The Lost Fingers - Straight Up [originally by Paula Abdul]

Alice Russell - Crazy [originally by Gnarls Barkley]

The CBC Radio Orchestra with Ndidi Onukwulu - American Woman [originally by The Guess Who]
Full CBC Radio 2 concert streaming here.

José González - Love Will Tear Us Apart [originally by Joy Division]
Speaking of which, a local exhibition recently opened in Vancouver with a cover version of a different variety: Love Will Tear Us Apart being "sung" in sign language.

July 3 - Jason Webley & Friends

I'm heading down to Seattle for what's sure to be a fun-filled weekend, Jason Webley's 11-Year Elevanniversary Celebration and Camp Tomato 2009. Jason Webley's relationship to the number 11 is not unlike Jack White's obsession with the number 3, hence the unconventional anniversary. The cost? $11. Seriously, when was the last time you went to an $11 show? That's less than the fees from Ticketmaster! Tickets still available here.

Originally I was planning a trip to catch Jim Henson's Fantastic World, a traveling exhibition of Muppet mayhem created by the Smithsonian. As usual, I tried to coincide my visit with a show when I found an e-mail from Jason Webley lingering in my inbox with details on his big show. In Jason's words: "Come celebrate eleven years of screaming, stomping and squeezing across the planet. A one-night extravaganza featuring most all of the musicians and artists that I have worked with over these past eleven years." Then I got a nice surprise earlier this week when he revealed one-time collaborator Amanda Palmer would be joining the festivities. Another surprise yesterday when I read Ms. Palmer and Neil Gaiman are officially an item! And if I'm not mistaken, they were introduced to each other by Mr. Webley.... but that's enough geek gossip for this blog. Now that I think about it, I first heard Jason Webley when Neil linked to his music video for Eleven Saints about three years ago.

Jason Webley - Eleven Saints

Amanda Palmer - I Google You [lyrics by Neil Gaiman]

Neil Gaiman - Who Killed Amanda Palmer? [Neil's spoken word intro for her WKAP tour]

August 6 - 9 Edmonton Folk Music Festival

I figured it was time for a trip back home (my first since Christmas) and as a bonus, I pulled some work strings to head back for the Edmonton Folk Fest which is celebrating its 30th year. I also easily convinced my whole family to come for some or all of the festival. I was sold when I found out Danny Michel would be playing the 4-day fest. Of course I've seen him several times, but it'll be a thrill to see him mix it up at the daily sessions where anything goes. They just announced the full line-up last week and the E-Town folk fest organizers scored a major coup by booking Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings to headline Saturday night. WOO! Festival goers unfamiliar with them will be in for a huge treat when they takeover the Main Stage. Other performers include:
  • Neko Case
  • Kathleen Edwards
  • Chumbawamba (a revelation when they played in '06)
  • Béla Fleck & Toumani Diabate
  • The Wailers
  • Steve Earle (just realized that's him in The Wire! I'm into Season 5 now.)
  • Iron and Wine
  • Pavlo
  • Loudon Wainwright III (heh heh, "Dead Skunk" for my dad! My mum hates that song.)
  • Joel Plaskett
  • Tift Merritt
  • Boz Scaggs (Lido Shuffle!)
...and of course plenty, plenty more, many of whom I'm unfamiliar with. Another headliner is the no-longer-Barenaked Lady, Steven Page who's currently in the middle of mixing an album of his collaboration with the Art of Time Ensemble from last year, an all-covers affair (streaming here) that included one of my favourite incarnations of Paranoid Android. Curious if he'll play any of that stuff at the Folk Fest. Can't wait 'til August!

Chumbawamba - Her Majesty (live at Edmonton Folk Fest 2006) [riff on The Beatles]

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - This Land is Your Land (live from Radio City Music Hall [originally by Woody Guthrie]
From last month's Dark Was the Night benefit concert.   The end of the show featured most the night's artists including Feist, Dirty Projectors, Bon Iver, My Brightest Diamond, and others gathering to pay tribute to Pete Seeger with a goofily earnest rendition of This Land is Your Land.  That is, until Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings cut in and proceed to bring down the house. Google the youtube video... it's pretty priceless.  This crisp audio is from the NPR broadcast (whole show on iTunes).

August 21 & 22 - The Dead Weather

Vancouver was spoiled last year when the Raconteurs came through town twice last year, ostensibly on the same tour. And now we're being treated to back-to-back shows from The Dead Weather come August. Gee, Jack must love it here or something. The first White Stripes shows I ever saw were back-to-back Vancouver shows in 2005.

What I'm really pumped for is the film chronicling the White Stripes 2007 cross-Canada tour, titled Under Great White Northern Lights, which is expected by year's end on DVD and possibly even in theatres. Logic dictates that the main feature will be the epic Glace Bay show, for which yours truly was in attendance (gloat!), hopefully with footage from the secret shows performed in almost every city on the tour.

The Dead Weather - Treat Me Like Your Mother
[File deleted, but get it free from the official site for the cost of a dummy e-mail]

August 28 & 29 - Harvey Danger

Though it was announced last week, I just found out the bombshell news last night that Harvey Danger are officially calling it quits with a handful of farewell shows. They've got shows planned for Schuba's in Chicago, the Largo in L.A., and two shows in their hometown Seattle. This just coming a year and a bit after their big 10th Anniversary brouhaha, which I was lucky enough to attend. While previously the band was on an indefinite hiatus for 4 years, the finality of this recent announcement is a bit of a gut punch. Their sophomore album King James Version, front-to-back is one of my favourite all-time albums. Though mostly known to the average joe for their one-hit wonder Flagpole Sitta in the 90s, they've got a small but intensely devoted fanbase that are already booking trips from across the US (and abroad!) to see what is 99% likely their final shows as Harvey Danger. Fortunately it's not much of a hassle for me to drag myself down to Seattle for the last two shows, an all-ages gig at the Vera Project (tickets here) and back where it all started at the Crocodile Club (tickets here). I've booked my tix, now to get off work...

Harvey Danger - Save it For Later [originally by The English Beat]
Harvey Danger - Oh! You Pretty Things [originally by David Bowie]

If you can handle Flac files, check out their New Year's gig from a few years back where they performed side 2 of Abbey Road straight through.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Goodbye Mama Shrimp, Papa shake my hand

Last Thursday, Danny Michel came through town on the last leg of his tour. He's headed back to the studio this fall to start working on a new album (yay!), but this time it'll be his home studio in "an old farmhouse" he recently bought. It was the fifth time I've seen him live and every time someone inevitably shouts out for him to play the "Shrimp Song". Usually he says no because he promised himself he'd stop playing it, but this time he relented when it became apparent most of the crowd hadn't heard it before (or they kept silent because they secretly wanted him to play it). Now the Shrimp Song AKA Song of the Shrimp is a cover of a bizarre, tragic, hilarious ditty originally performed by The King of Rock 'n Roll himself, Mr. Elvis Presley.

Elvis Presley - Song of the Shrimp [written by Roy Bennett and Sid Tepper]
Song of the Shrimp was written by the songwriting team of Bennett & Tepper for the 1962 Elvis film Girls! Girls! Girls!. In total, they wrote 42 songs for various Elvis films and albums. In its original incarnation, it's a light-hearted albeit warped Belafonte-esque tune about a baby shrimp saying goodbye to his loving parents and jumping on a shrimp boat to Louisiana to "find his fortune" (he reads an ad in the Shrimp newspaper for a free trip to New Orleans!). Little does he know there's a "Big Creole gal" waiting to help young shrimp such as himself out of their shells. Essay topic: in 500 words or less, discuss how Song of the Shrimp is a metaphor for sending young men to war.

Townes Van Zandt - Song of the Shrimp [originally performed by Elvis Presley]
In this live cut, Van Zandt can barely make it through without breaking down, frequently laughing and commenting at the inherent absurdity of the song. Carolyn Mark who was co-headlining with Danny Michel has a free "living room tour" album for download on her site with a handful of covers that coincidentally includes Van Zandt's Lost Highway [EDIT: actually it's originally written by Leon Payne and made famous by Hank Williams].

Frank Black - Song of the Shrimp [originally performed by Elvis Presley]
Frank Black sings this one straight on his 2005 album Honeycomb, showcasing a darker side to the lyrics. In an interview, Black reveals that he was inspired by Van Zandt's version and has actually never even heard Elvis Presley's version. This time when hearing Danny perform the Shrimp Song (I'd only heard him play it once before at my very first show) I realized that his version seems to be based in turn on Frank Black's cover. So, a cover of a cover of a cover. Over a year ago on his blog, Danny teased about posting his version of Song of the Shrimp, so I suspect he has a recording in his archives somewhere and hope we'll hear it someday...