Covering someone else’s song can be a tricky thing. Sometimes it works brilliantly — think Talking Heads doing "Take Me To The River," or Johnny Cash doing "Hurt" — and sometimes it’s painful (see: any cover by William Shatner) On The Next Great American Band, our competitors have to interpret another artist’s work (this week: Bob Dylan) as well as performing something of their own. Let’s see how they did.
Dylan goes Spoiler; Newport Folk Festival crowd riots.
Denver and the Mile High Orchestra started us off, and I loved every minute of them. Their version of "Freight Train Blues" swung, and it was great to see Denver play the trumpet (one handed!). Their original was similarly great. But the camera focused on kids in the audience looking bored, which is not a good sign. The judges liked it, but John cautioned that they’re going to have to update themselves a bit, and Dicko complained that it was the cheeriest blues song he’d ever heard (although the Dylan original isn’t exactly a dirge, so I don’t know what he’s on about.)
The Hatch continues to elude me. Yeah, the lead singer isn’t difficult to look at, but the odor of cheese clings to them somehow. Their Dylan song was "It’s All Over Now Baby Blue," and it didn’t strike me one way or the other. The original meandered a bit and both Dicko and John tell them they’ve really got to sound less like they’re just getting up and jamming and more like they’ve got a hook-laden pop song.
Light of Doom chose "All Along the Watchtower" for the Dylan cover, and I’m disappointed — I wish they’d gone with something less obvious. Also, I think they bobbled the lyrics a bit, and the guitar solo was off. Their original, dedicated to the victims of the Southern California fires, was rockin’, but I fear for the lead singer — he’ll have completely flayed his vocal chords before he can vote. The judges liked it, but both Shelia and Dicko pleaded with them to put their shirts on. Thank you!
The Likes of You did "Blowing in the Wind," and they didn’t do anything to make it their own — except throw in some falsetto. Their original song also ladled on the falsetto — just because you can hit the high notes, Geoff, doesn’t mean you have to do it every other line. I’m just not feeling them. They’re inoffensive — I wouldn’t change the station if they came on the radio, but I wouldn’t seek them out. John loved them, but Sheila warned that if Geoff was going to go for those high notes, he had to actually hit them. "The jeans just need to be a little tighter next time," Geoff said. OK, fine, that was funny.
Rocket surprised me — I wasn’t terribly taken with them last week, but they did a great job with "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door" and their original was fun (although was anyone else reminded of Scandal’s "Goodbye to You"?) They do seem to be playing a lot better this time around, which is good. I agree with John and Dicko that Lauren’s voice could use a bit more heft or edge.
Cliff Wagner and the Old #7 — I wanted to like them this week, but they were just pleasant. It was nice. They can play, they’re talented people, but they’re not really compelling. Neither the Dylan cover ("Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right") nor their original grabbed me. Bummer. John said it best — "I really want to hang out with your guys." I’d love to hang on the back porch, drinking some beer and kicking back while they played. But I don’t know if I’d ever spend money to go to a concert or buy one of their albums.
The Muggs brought what they called "greasy Detroit Rock ‘n Roll," and they did it well — they put some stomp in Dylan’s "Meet Me in the Morning," and their original also rocked. Dan isn’t much of a singer, but he doesn’t claim to be — although I do agree with Dicko that he needs to own it more. Again, I wanted to like these guys more than I did. I like them, but they don’t thrill me.
The Clark Brothers? They thrill me. Dear god, I love to watch those boys play. I loved their take on "Maggie’s Farm" — they switched it up a bit. It was still recognizably Dylan’s song, but they made it their own. Plus, Ashley broke out the fiddle, and it was great. Their original had a smoking dobro solo that had me cheering. One of the boys broke a string while they were playing, and he just went right on going. It was awesome. Dicko didn’t like that they changed up "Maggie’s Farm." Dicko is wrong.
Tres Bien … look, they’re a fun band. They look like they’re having fun, and they give you a fun background soundtrack. They didn’t do anything phenomenal with "Subterranean Homesick Blues," but they had fun with it. Their original was, as John said, "pure 60s Britpop" — which is kind of the problem. I love 60s Britpop, but when I want that, I’ll listen to actual 60s Britpop. It’s now 2007, and it feels like they’re some sort of tribute band. Their musicianship isn’t on the level of the other bands, either.
Franklin Bridge completely owned the stage. Curt was wearing a shirt that said "The Funk Will Set You Free," and oh my, it did. Their version of "Tangled Up in Blue" was funkified by still recognizable, and it rocked out — as John said, it sounded like a Prince song, and that’s never bad. My only complaint? Their original was the same song they played at the audition. I want more! John and Sheila loved them — Sheila proclaimed them the future winners of the competition — but Dicko thinks they over-arrange their songs. Again, he’s wrong.
I really loved Dot Dot Dot, but the judges were down on them. I thought they rocked out on "Like a Rolling Stone," completely made it their own, and I was loving the original, too. They did commit the cardinal sin of song titles, though — never name your song something that can go into a kiss-off headline.
Sixwire wrapped it up for the night, and they were competent, professional, great musicians, but they left me a bit cold. Their Dylan cover — "Mr. Tambourine Man" — was a bit too much like the Byrd’s version, with a key change thrown in just to prove they could do it. Their original rocked, but again, it was the same as last week’s, and I wanted something more. The judges loved them — Shelia even got fickle and took the winner’s title away from Franklin Bridge. Again, they’re really good, but they don’t thrill me.
Thoughts, highlights and odds and ends:
- Dicko on Denver and the Mile High Orchestra: "Denver, you’ve got to take that clown suit on a one-way trip to the charity shop… the moment, it’s a little bit Christmas bash as an accountancy firm."
- Dicko on Light of Doom: "I can’t be the only one in America who finds it a bit spooky — it smacks a bit of Children of the Corn with guitars."
- My thoughts on Light of Doom — if the competition doesn’t work out, they should do shampoo commercials — their shiny, bouncy hair really impresses during the headbanging sessions.
- Dear Geoff, lead singer of The Likes of You: I’m not entirely sure you should admit you were trying to game the system by constructing a band to get you into the competition, even if you did say it to emphasize how band-like you guys now are.
- John recommended that Lauren from Rocket listen to some Siouxsie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde and Exene Cervenka — and the crowd booed him, because they thought he was dissing her. Shut up, crowd — she can’t help but getting better listening to kick-ass rock chicks like that.
- Dicko on Lauren: "You do need to train [your voice] a little bit; at times sounded like one of my teenage daughter having a tanti." (I’m assuming that’s British or Australian for tantrum, and I have to agree.)
- Cliff Wagner on coming to his music of choice: "If you played bluegrass, you could be 50 and overweight and ugly, and if you could pick and sing, everybody would still love you."
- Dicko to Danny of The Muggs: "You approach the microphone each time as if it’s got something nasty on it — I think it’s a defense mechanism because you’re not confident about your voice. Get over it and commit to the song."
- Dicko on Dot Dot Dot: "You’re like some advertising exec’s idea of a rock band, not a real rock band, and that’s not good. [Spend] less time running around like a hyperactive emo leprechaun and more time concentrating on vocals."
- Did anyone else think Michael from Tres Bien put on a bit of a British accent when he was responding to Dicko’s question? Oh, sweetie, that’s not good. You’re from Florida (see, I got it right this time), not across the pond.
Next week, we’ll find out what two bands will get sent home. If it were up to me, that would be Cliff Wagner and the Old #7 and Tres Bien. But considering the response from the audience, I fear Denver and the Mile High Orchestra might be one of the first to go. That would be a shame.
The remaining 10 bands will perform the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Who’s up for a headbanging "Candle in the Wind?"