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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2013/04/28
by David Steinberg

One Band, One Song

Right after last month’s column was published, I went to go see Shook Twins play. Amusingly enough, they announced that they were making a new album and there would be a Kick Starter campaign for it. It just went live so I had to check to see what the perks for donating were. This one immediately caught my eye:

“**Pledge $1,000 or more**

NOW THIS IS JUST PLAIN CRAY CRAY’ ~ Tell us your favorite song, we will learn it and record it for you in our own shookie way!”

There was a whole lot of other swag with that offer but it’s the song cover that caught my eye. It’s a hard offer to narrow down. My first thought was “The Divided Sky” but it really wouldn’t play to their strengths as vocalists so that would be out. I bet they could slay “Tangled Up in Blue” but I don’t think the world needs another cover of that. Still though, while I’m speculating about having a spare grand to throw away, why not change the rules a bit. Suppose the Shooks actually did have their time traveling window and for the money they could get any band to cover any song. If we’re trying to stretch either the artist or the boundaries of the song, what would come to mind? [1]

SCI circa 1998 covering “Tania” (Camper Van Beethoven)

Since they’ve returned a few years ago, I’ve seen Camper Van at least a half dozen times. “Tania” is in heavy rotation for their sets but as much as I love hearing it, I always have the same thought during the outro jam. It’s a violin heavy riff that gets faster and faster through a few repetitions. If only once it could go further than they play it, to see just how fast that riff could be played. Well whenever I think about a band playing very fast, one band comes to mind, especially if the section in question has some fiddle in it – your all weather mountain dance band. String Cheese Incident in the late 90s could have done some incredible things with that jam and would make a great first test of my technology and persuasive abilities.

Phish covering “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding”

Remember the 99 albums game before Festival 8? There was a website with album covers that were slowly eliminated before Exile was revealed to be the album Phish would cover on Halloween. One of the options was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I was pushing this option hard. No, I didn’t really have a need to hear “All the Girls Love Alice” or even B-B-B-“Bennie and the Jets.” It was solely about hearing the first track. Multiple sections, high energy, good parts for all four band members – this would be a natural fit for the band. They don’t have to cover the whole album to make this song an option.

The Doors covering “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent/Fly Famous Mockingbird” (Phish)

Jim Morrison might have been the most pretentious storyteller of all time. Gamehendge is a goofy little fantasy story. Would Jim be able to somehow make Forbin’s relationship with Tela be some sort of twisted psychosexual drama? Could Icculus be a metaphor for the emptiness of organized religion? Or would the silliness of the story break the Lizard King and get him to loosen up to the disappointment of 15 year old girls everywhere? I – for one – would love to find out. Ray Manzarek could have a blast with the lead guitar line in “Mockingbird.”

The Jimi Hendrix Experience covering “Fluffhead” (Phish)

This would have to mainly be done as an instrumental – no way Hendrix sings “Clod” – but I bet he’d discover all sorts of hidden melodies and riffs buried in the song.

Grateful Dead covering “Time Turns Elastic.” (Phish) [2]

Phish covered the Dead a few times so I wanted to do the old switcheroo. After spending some time trying to figure out the perfect song for this, a bizarre call came to mind. If nothing else, that got your attention I bet.

Here’s the thing about “TTE.” If you listen to later versions of the song, it’s actually nowhere as bad as its reputation would make you think. It just has the twin problems of being overly long and having too many vocal sections. Moreover a prominent lyric is a complete mood breaker.

Now let’s take Jerry Garcia. He sung a completely nonsensical line like, “Roll away the dew,” and did so in a way that made people have life changing experiences. I bet if he really tried, he could sing about being a submarine and people would be weeping in the aisle. Too bad we’ll never know. It might be amazing, it might be an epic disaster, but I’d waste some time machine juice to make it happen.

OK, back to the present now, I should go back to the topic at hand. Shook Twins are high energy and have amazing voices and talent on multiple instruments. What would work for them?

“Coyote” (Joni Mitchell) They could do a great job with this song. There’s a great tension between the frustration of the lyrics and the speed of the music. The song is under known enough that they could make it their own to some degree. The biggest drawback is that it might be a bit too on the nose for them. For a grand, let’s challenge the band a bit.

“Stella Blue” (Grateful Dead) Their voices could lead to a haunting version of the song but ultimately they don’t have the pathos to pull it off I don’t think. If the Shooks are anything, they’re young and full of life. Stella needs world-weariness. It might be fun to stretch them, but I don’t want to damage their psyches. Let life beat them down on its own schedule.

“Harpua” (Phish) This one would be just for the silliness. I think they’d have fun telling their own version of the story and – hey – you get two covers for the price of one with this one. Ultimately though, not having a keyboard in the band would ruin it.

“Terrapin Station Part 1” (Grateful Dead) Yeah, there are a few covers of this but it’s an epic song. It’s lyric heavy which is a Shooks strength but the instrumental part would push them without being overly challenging. Most importantly, it qualifies under the definition. There are definitely days where Terrapin Station is my favorite song ever. Anyone feel like throwing me $1000 so I can hear this?

[1] Since this is Jambands.com, I’ll try to keep at least one leg of this related to the genre. Maybe Mott the Hoople would do a great version of The Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” but I’m not going there.

[2] What? You thought I would make a list of this and not have it be mostly Phish covers?

*****

David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the Phish.net blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page

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