We’ve all been there: a friend suggests meeting up at a bar or restaurant before moving on to a show; a place you’ve never visited before. My most recent example of this was an Irish pub here in Munich. Such places aren’t usually chosen for the music, but for their drink or fattening bar food specials. With any luck a decent jukebox is within an index finger’s reach. I wasn’t so fortunate. Wrenching my ear, I heard something rattling from within this particularly cavernous watering hole. It couldn’t be Ozzy, live, could it? Wait, Robert Plant? Never. It was…
a cover band. Oh. No.
The dreaded cover band. I’ve seen more than my fill of them over the years. In the shadow of world renowned groups like Björn Again (questionable despite the awesome name), it has always been local, 80s cover ensembles making themselves known to me. An evening of atrocious versions of seminal toe-tappers like “Tainted Love” and “Come On Eileen” attempting to sound exactly like the originals. This type of execution is usually painful to listen to. Striving to replicate a particular tune exactly as the original artist recorded it makes me tired. Though they receive an A for effort, in the end, more times than not, these replicas are a disappointment; buzzy/confused head from consuming too much cider notwithstanding.
A cover song, however, ONE song in an artist’s repertoire of originals? This is a different story entirely.
In a quest to dazzle an audience with a cover song (singular), an artist/band has a pretty big responsibility. They must keep their audience interested with song spinning tools, techniques like being ironic, adding testosterone and a bullhorn or simply funking up a couple of classics. The shapes an artist can twist an original tune into are limitless; point is they have to transform it into something new while respecting the original, in my opinion, anyway. Changes in instrumentation or genre while keeping it recognizable must be a difficult task, right? More so than merely replicating vocals (or trying to) I’m sure. Is an artist’s mere decision to select a song to begin with respect enough? Most of the time, I think.
Hearing a thoughtful cover nestled in between an originals-only set list is an exciting surprise. Recently, I’ve uncovered two of the most pleasant covers I’ve heard in a long time, both live and by artists I respect:
Munich locals and mod-rock lovelies Becquerels managed to take one of Dame Madge’s electronic, slightly drum and bassy tunes and rocket it to another planet entirely. Then…
Just when I thought I heard his best material yet, one of my favorites for so many reasons, Ben Cooper (Radical Face/Electric President), managed to silence a room and coax tears as he does with his much of his own material. His folky manipulation of the Sinead O’Connor classic “Nothing Compares 2 U” in Munich earlier this week ended his show with an emotional subtlety rarely seen live, by any artist. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes, but mixing things up a bit will get you a little more respect…in my musical circles, anyway.
Radical Face – “Nothing Compares 2 U” (cover) [MP3]
[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]