Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Back in March, the Onion A.V. Club began a weekly feature called "Undercover" and yesterday was the final installment in the feature. How it worked was that the folks at the A.V. Club made a list of 25 songs they thought it would be fun to see another band cover. Each week they invited in a band and that band had their choice of however many songs remained. A couple of other things: each band performed the song inside of an small, circular, claustrophobic room. After the performance, each band got to add a bit of graffiti to the room.

Yesterday, The A.V. Club asked people to vote for their top 5 performances. The runaway winner was Ted Leo & The Pharmacists who set an incredibly high bar by covering Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" in week one. The next four favorites were: The Swell Season covering Neutral Milk Hotel's "Two Headed Boy"; Wye Oak covering The Kinks' "Strangers", The Clientele covering M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes"; and Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide covering Journey's "Faithfully".

There were several wonderful things about this feature: It was cool to watch the bands adjust to the awkward room. Most of the artists showed a neat side of themselves personally; some were clearly emotionally attached to the songs they chose to cover. In addition, it was very cool to see a band chose to play a song they probably would never play.

There were also some disappointing aspects of this feature: Too many bands elected to cover a song by playing a disaffected, stripped-down, acoustic version of it. A few of the bands (ahem, Cursive) elected to butcher the song they chose. Having to watch the Budweiser advertisement again and again was annoying.

Here are my top 5 songs from this series:

#1) The Clientele covers M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes"
This is everything a good cover song should be. In the hip-hop smash hit "Paper Planes," The Clientele chose a song completely out of their comfort zone. They made it their own with violins, creative vocal stylings, and the inventive tambourine/xylophone combo on the chorus. Most of all, they clearly had a fun time with this song. Click here to see just how much their version differs from the original.

#2) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists cover Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"
I didn't want to include this song because this was so popular with the A.V. Club crowd. But, there is just no way I could omit it. They make this song rock. Ted Leo is flawless on the guitar and adds a stunning solo at the end.

#3) Owen Pallett covers Guided by Voices' "Game of Pricks"
I am going to see Owen Pallett in concert later this month when he opens for The National. I can't wait. Pallett's wizardry with the violin is captivating.

#4) Motion City Soundtrack covers Pavement's "Cut Your Hair"
This was actually the first of the cover songs that I listened to. With 5 acoustic guitars this cover seems equally ambitious and amateurish. However, they get tremendous credit for their enthusiasm and for not holding back on the solo.

#5) Ben Folds covers Elliott Smith's "Say Yes"
I am a huge fan of both Ben Folds and Elliott Smith. So, it was fascinating to listen to his distinctive voice and his pop-keyboard style on his rendition of the Smith classic. For the usually bombastic Folds, there is a dignified solemnity in his performance.

Bonus: The next five
#6) Rise Against covers Nirvana
#7) The Swell Season covers Neutral Milk Hotel
#8) Wye Oak covers The Kinks
#9) Coheed & Cambria covers The Smiths
#10) Patrick Stump covers The Wedding Present

(My 52 Lists in 52 Weeks feature went on a bit of a hiatus. I'm going to count this blog post as list #35.)