Arts and Entertainment

STANDING ROOM ONLY: 'Clumsy Lovers' good with covers

Any rock band worth its salt has a cover tune or two in its repertoire. I’m not talking about bands that make a living at playing cover songs; such unambitious outfits are usually just a collection of part-time, working-class guys who rent themselves out for weddings or become the “house band” at a local tavern, pocketing $100 a night for giving sloshed yahoos exactly what they want: perfectly-regurgitated versions of already overplayed classic songs that, even three sheets to the wind, you can sing along to, loudly and nostalgically.

No, what I have in mind here is something on the order of the Replacement’s cover of “Black Diamond” or Willie Nelson’s version of “Stardust.” For there is an art to choosing a good cover song; it has everything to do with the performer who chooses it, and very little to do with the song chosen.

First of all, a cover should never be a mere copy. Instead, the song should be owned, transformed, turned into something recognizable yet wholly different. It should be given the flair of individual style in order that listeners can hear the song anew, enhanced, with perhaps a different perspective.

Secondly, a well-adopted song should tell something significant and revealing about the adopting party. It should reveal an influence, a particular bias for a band or a genre that helped mold the musician’s sensibility. In this sense, a good cover is both a tribute and a confession of artistic appreciation.

Finally, a sense of humor is crucial. If a band takes its cover songs too seriously, it inevitably will be compared to the source material, most likely unfavorably.

The Clumsy Lovers, a 5-piece group from Coquitlam, B.C., have attempted the truly risky: they’ve released an entrie CD worth of cover tunes. It’s something of a trend in the music industry now — along with tribute albums — and the results are usually pretty wishy-washy. Not here, however. The Clumsy Lovers, with their accomplished brand of Celtic/bluegrass stomp, have put their unique stamp on numbers by artists ranging from U2 to Paul Simon to the Pogues to the Beatles. The amazing thing is how much of the material works. To hear the old J. Geils Band song “Centerfold” raved up as a banjo-heavy, rhythm-shifting anthem almost brought a tear to my eye. From laughter, that is.

The band borrows heavily from the whiskey-drenched Celtic punk of the Pogues, an ‘80s band that set the standard for this kind of music. Fast fiddles, crackerjack drumming with firecracker beats and vocals that rise and fall with what seems a flood of woozy and wise sentiment. The Clumsy Lovers even riff on a couple of Pogue frontman Shane MacGowan’s songs: “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” is especially stunning.

The Clumsy Lovers have been touring for almost a year on their new “Under the Covers” album, and this Friday will find them performing a CD Release Party in Anacortes at the Watertown Pub. If you yell really loud, they might even play their version of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Call (360)293-3587 for tickets and times.

On a slightly different note: Also playing at Anacortes’ Community Theater is the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with Oak Harbor’s own Aveline Plagakis as Mary Magdalene and Saul Nathan McCartney in the lead role as mankind’s singing savior living out his final week before crucifixion. In general, I loathe Andrew Lloyd Webber and his watered-down, pseudo-mystical attempts at middle-brow pageantry, but this particular play is actually pretty good (especially that one heavy song when Christ is overturning bazaar tables in disgust at greed and selfishness). Runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday through April 27; tickets are $14; call (360) 293-6829 for more times or more info.

Or, for some less sacred types of abracadabra, you could travel to the Lincoln Theater in Mount Vernon this Saturday (April 13) at 3 p.m. for “An Afternoon of Magic,” which will feature eight prestigious prestidigitators from around the Northwest region. All sorts of magic will be performed, all derived from “the ancient and refined art that has delighted and amazed audiences almost from the beginning of times.” Call the Lincoln box office toll free at 1-877-754-6284 for more illusory info.

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