Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Coolest Covers: Part One

A friend *cough* Tara Lancaster *cough* recently suggested that I do a blog post on 'awesome covers'. I thought it was a great idea, but immediately embarked upon an internal debate about what makes an 'awesome cover'. I came up with a few ideas:

Is it when the cover gets more attention than the original? (e.g: Leona Lewis's cover of 'Run' by Snow Patrol) 
Is it when the cover is entirely more memorable than the original? (Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt') 
Is it when your favourite band covers absolutely anything? (The Gaslight Anthem's take on 'God's Gonna Cut You Down') 
Is it something completely unexpected and different to the original? (That Hawaiian guy who covered 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' on his ukulele. Edit: his name was Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. I found it on Google, because the only other human being who would have known what I was talking about is my grandmother, and she'd probably think I'd lost my mind if I phoned to ask her) 
The answer is, in fact, that it's a little bit of all of the above. 

Below is a list of some of my favourite covers, a few being recent additions, and the rest oldies. I quite like this idea, so I'll see this as Part One of a covers series.

- Watershed: 'Southern Cross' by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Whilst it doesn't beat the original, the local boys do a fantastic version of the song, and luckily they always play it live, so I've gotten to see it more than once.

- Chvrches: 'Do I Wanna Know' by Arctic Monkeys. I love Alex Turner and co's version of their song, but I love Lauren Mayberry's voice more. Also, no matter how many times I'm told that the correct pronunciation of this band's name is 'churches', it will always be 'cha-ver-ches' to me.

- Johnny Cash: 'Hurt' by Nine Inch Nails. I dare you to watch the video without feeling a stab of painful human emotion. Plus, it's Johnny. He can do no wrong.

- Bruce Springsteen: 'Royals' by Lorde. Something bugs me about Lorde, and I think it's the fact that she's a kid singing about adult struggles. I don't believe her when she sings about being from a torn-up town and driving a cadillac in her dreams, but somehow when The Boss sings it, I believe every word. It's all suddenly real.

- Nirvana: 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' originally American folk song 'In The Pines'. Because Kurt Cobain brings this song to life and adds a little bit of gravel and grain without losing the gist of the original song.

- Glee Cast: 'Don't Stop Believing' by Journey. For a lot of people, this was the first time they'd ever heard this classic song, and I can't hate on Glee if it made great music more accessible for the younger generation.

- Pendulum: 'Violet Hill' by Coldplay. I wanted to stay away from the Radio 1 Live Lounge songs, because I could do a million posts on those amazing covers, but this one sticks out for me simply because usually I'd block my ears if someone tried to cover Coldplay around me, but this one is just really great.

- Lily Allen: 'Everybody's Changing' by Keane. Lily seems to have a thing for covering Keane songs (she also did a cover of 'Somewhere Only We Know' for the John Lewis Christmas advert last year), and somehow her thick London accent and sweet, high voice do justice to the alternative band's songs. 

Review: Prime Circle Live at GrandWest

Cape Town – a land where the inner-city hipsters judge the quality of a band’s music based on its failure to sell albums, and write-off anyone who happens to have a hit on the radio, because really, what kind of mainstream fools even listen to the radio? How, then, did Prime Circle expect to sell out a venue as large as Grandwest’s Grand Arena? Well – take note, hipsters – if they’ve had so many radio hits, they must have had some fans in the first place, right? The answer is yes – they had a whole arena full.

The Grand Arena has in the past played host to international bands including The Script, Daughtry and Nickelback, with The Fray and 30 Seconds to Mars both scheduled for later this year, but this was the first time I had experienced it with the golden circle and general admission areas instead filled with chairs. I must say, it was a welcome sight. With tonight’s concert attracting a large number of the older crowd, as well as parents with children, seating everyone made for a less tiring evening, but did not stop the fans from jumping up and leaving their seats long forgotten by the second song of the night.

Opening act Jesse Clegg was treat for many of the audience members. Playing slowed down acoustic versions of five of his song, ‘Heartbreak Street’ in particular contained enough familiar lyrics to transport one back in time to 2008, when it was a firm radio favourite.

It’s a mind-blowingly quick changeover, thanks to the help of a giant curtain which had been hiding all of Prime Circle’s gear, and within seconds they burst onto stage. Now, I’d need both hands and possibly a foot to count the amount of times I’ve seen Prime Circle before – but never quite like this.

Instantly, the stage is lit up in all colours of the rainbow, with dancing lights and background screens emphasizing each song. It’s impossible to reconcile this band on stage tonight with the band that so often plays on outside stages at the likes of the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts. Tonight, they’re just as international as any of those bands that have been here before.

Brand new single ‘Gone’ goes down a storm as the second song of the evening, but of course we are treated to some of the old classics as well, including ‘Hello’ and ‘As Long As I Am Here’ from their first album, way back in 2002. And yes, everyone does still remember the words to both songs.

With the front rows having left their seats long ago, Prime Circle proceeded to cover their fans in sparkly gold ribbons, which shot from the confetti cannons, high into the air and elicited many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.

‘Out of This Place’ and ‘Breathing’ are two of my personal favourites, also performed impeccably, however the biggest singalong of the night was – without a doubt – ‘She Always Gets What She Wants’. Frontman Ross Learmonth (still, somehow, with that hint of a Scottish accent, although he left the country when he was tow months old) dedicated the song to all the ladies in honour of Women’s Day, and grinned broadly as the voices of the crowd overpowered his own.

Closing with ‘Consider Me’, the show was absolutely fantastic. Ending in a shower of confetti, Prime Circle set the bar high for live performances, and other local bands should take note. An absolutely professional production, it is no wonder that the band have had successful European tours with bands including 3 Doors Down.

As a side note, there are several ways in which one can describe Grandwest Casino on a Saturday night: the tourist brochures will certainly call it ‘a hive of activity’, but I prefer ‘pure hell on earth’. Do arrive at 7pm for an 8pm show, expecting to ‘just grab dinner when you get there’. What you’ll be doing is entering a fierce battle with several teens on dates, and perhaps a crying 3-year-old before you get near the front of the line for any kind of food. In fact, I’d advise to sneak in the side entrances near the arena, and skip the rest altogether.

Original review also found on www.whatsonincapetown.com.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Top 5 Songs: The Shins

I was halfway through a list of my favourite song lyrics in the history of songs, when I was suddenly struck by the fact that I had to keep restraining myself from adding another song by The Shins. And another. And another. So I decided to save that one in my drafts and instead begin a list of my Top 5 by The Shins.

Way back in early March 2012, I booked tickets for Reading Festival, simply because the thought of Paramore was enough to elicit and actually squeal, and when The Gaslight Anthem were added about a minute later, I literally screamed. Add Foster The People, The Vaccines, Florence, and some weirdos called the Foo Fighters, and I was sold. Cue buying tickets on my poor mother's credit card, and hoping she'd forgive me the next morning when I had to make the "I-just-spent-R5000-on-your-credit-card" phone call. The next few months flew by in a whir of Pumped Up Kicks, you-and-what-army, instrumental intros for Flo's numbers, a cursory listen to The Black Keys... and an interesting new find called The Shins. Something about their melodies haunted me, even though I battled to catch a lot of the lyrics. By the time I got better at figuring out James Mercer's vocals, I just had enough time to place myself firmly in awe of his lyrical genius, before I embarked upon a crusade to learn every word of their setlist before August. It was the beginning of April, and I was hooked.

Fast-forward to this band being the one I was most looking forward to, besides the Gaslight Anthem, but then add 5000 bored-looking audience members, and it was enough to put a massive downer on my excitement. The band's performance was great, but the audience acted like they were at a funeral, and I was the only one singing along to 'Bait & Switch' at the top of my voice. Now, two years later, they are still one of my favourite bands, and I think back on that day with nothing but regret. I wish that I could have blocked the audience out and enjoyed the performance more, but it hurt me personally that such an amazing band weren't getting the treatment they deserved.

Anyway. To make me feel better, let's do a Top 5, so that if you ever happen to see The Shins, you'll be able to sing enough for all those losers who just don't.

'Australia' - At first listen it's upbeat, happy-sounding and catchy. Even if you do work out the words James is singing, chances are you never string them together well enough to realise that it's about being stuck in a dead-end job. It's a classic formula: being with poppy tune, add miserable theme, and it's that perfect shocker for when your listeners finally figure out what you're on about. Don't believe me? Take a look at the lyrics - it's all selfish fools (bosses) and buying of your life's time (that pitiful salary you receive at the end of the month). 

'Port of Morrow' - If this was the first/only song by The Shins that you ever heard, you've be forgiven for thinking that they're super-emo. It's a lament on the sad truths of life, and is horrifyingly descriptive and frank. I love it, and in my head there is a perfect sepia-toned music video to go along with it. 

'Phantom Limb' - Apparently about a lesbian couple in high school, but there's no doubt that everyone can relate to the line "follow the lines and wonder why there's no connection" every now and then. It's a song about being out of place, and all of us rejects know what that feels like.

'New Slang' - Pure and absolute poetry! This isn't a song, it's just a purely genius way of stringing words together into absolute perfection, and elicit emotions I didn't even know I had. I mean, what does "If you took to me like a gull takes to the wind, well I'da jumped from my trees and I'da danced like the king of the eyesores..." even me?! I'll tell you what it means - it means that this band is flawless.

'Simple Song' - Oh, the way I squealed when this was played in How I Met Your Mother! Perhaps they'd finally get some attention in the mainstream media. One of my favourite songs ever, it contains an endless amount of lines appropriate enough to caption an Instagram picture with, or quote on Twitter when you're feeling alone. Plus, the video is full of people tearing each other's hair out and avoiding a wrecking ball, what more could you ask for?