I’ve been a big fan of Michael Benjamin Lerner since his first Telekinesis album, and he’s put on some of my favorite shows when I’ve had a chance to see his band live — including one during CMJ where Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan and Fred Armisen served as his backing band. Wow.
All too often, bands you’re dying to check out — especially new ones — play shortened sets due to only having like ten songs to pull from — and you tend to walk away feeling a tad unsatisfied. I’ve always thought this is the perfect excuse to work up a cover song: It not only fleshes out the set, but, in many ways, introduces the audience to a band’s influences and own songs, and ultimately wins over fans. If a young band pulls out a great cover song, it actually makes me want to delve into its original music more. Go figure. So yeah, I love a well-chosen cover song, and especially one pulled off live in concert.
And this year, I was lucky enough to hear a bunch of them. Here’s a few:
It’s difficult to truly calculate how many songs have been recorded by indie veterans Guided By Voices and its frontman Robert Pollard. Certainly hundreds. Maybe thousands? But it’s safe to say that with such a giant output over the years, it’s hard for fans to know where to start, what records to listen to, or which songs to focus in on with way-too-prolific band. Sometimes it just takes a single song as an entry point. This is the case for me and GBV.
Like many, one of my favorites that’s stuck with me over the years from Guided By Voices is “Game Of Pricks” from the band’s album Alien Lanes.
The main draw for me is the way this feels completely realized with excellent hooks, despite being under two minutes. Much of Pollard’s work is concise, but his last five to ten records have more “unfinished” sketches in need of a second verse than lean pop bangers like “Game Of Pricks.”
But another reason why “Game Of Pricks” has become one of my favorite songs is two cover versions recorded in the last few years. Both do an excellent job of keeping it straightforward and simple in their approach, but still maintain the lax, grunged-out feel and relatable point of view. Sometimes a cover song need not completely reinvent, strip down or rethink, but just be a kick ass interpretation that makes you remember how great the song is. These two covers do that and then some.
Here’s Telekinesis’ version, from the EP, Parallel Seismic Conspiracies:
and here’s a decent live version from Telekinesis:
And then there’s this cover version from fellow longtime indie rocker, Lou Barlow (best known for his work with Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr.), from a GBV compilation, Sing For Your Meat: A Tribute To Guided By Voices.
Also be sure to check out a cool performance of the song by violinist extraordinaire Owen Pallett, as part of The A.V. Club’s Undercover series.
“I’d like to thank Merge for getting me off my couch.” — Michael Benjamin Lerner, Telekinesis
At one point or another, we’ve all read about an extraordinary concert in some book, or in Rolling Stone, on Pitchfork, or just on social media and thought “Damn, I wish I was there.” It doesn’t make much sense fretting about missing out if Band X played its entire album front-to-back or Band Y played a surprise show at two in the morning. That’s life, right? Can’t be there for everything. But it is music geek human nature to feel the slightest twinge of regret.
Still, every once in awhile, if you go to enough shows, you luck into seeing something special that will make others seethe in nerd jealousy. For me, last night’s Telekinesis set — at Merge Record’s CMJ showcase at New York’s Mercury Lounge — was one of those times.