Thursday, May 28, 2009

Covers: "Don't Stop Believin'" by the cast of Glee

I'm not sure what bugs me more: that a cover of "Don't Stop Believin'" by the cast of Glee is No. 4 on the Hot 100--five spots higher than Journey's original peaked--or that it seems to rip off the Petra Haden version. (At least the intros.)

An a capella take on a song isn't necessarily such an original idea that two people can't come to it independently. Haden's cover is from a relatively obscure compilation. A compilation with a "guilty pleasure" theme, in fact. Who knows whether or not the crew of some network television studio is aware of Haden's 2007 cover or not.

They knick the sound, but lose points for effort. Haden went so far with her vocals that she even sang the guitar solo. The Glee kids, however, wimp out. After about a minute, in come the drums and the rest of the band, and by the end of the song the a capella concept seems to have been entirely fazed out.

It's an obscenely bombastic arrangement: the a capella backing vocals stick around, horns show up, and a man and girl duet in the shrieking style of drama kids--Adam Lambert is kicking himself over a missed opportunity right now. (Speaking of Idol, if the girl on this song was a contestant she'd have "pitchy" ringing in her ears.)

If anything, it's that earnest stage sincerity that sets the Glee cover apart. Haden's version is more low-key, goofy, and even seems to be making fun of the song, or at least teasing it. The Glee version sings to the rafters and is intended to get those 12-to-15-year-olds bopping on their couches.

As for how the cover stacks up to Journey, well, who do you trust: Steve Perry or a nation of tweens with iTunes?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Concert Review: Franz Ferdinand, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, May 6

Franz Ferdinand is definitely used to playing bigger venues. They're the first band I've seen who lugged an 18-column row of TV-sized video screens and pillars of lights into the modestly-sized Electric Factory, which holds about 3,000 or less. But just like Franz Ferdinand has always had the singles mentality of a pop band, their live show is stadium-sized no matter how big the arena.

The four-song opening salvo of "Dark of the Matinee," "No You Girls," "The Fallen" and "Michael" felt like, and was received like, a hit-after-hit sequence. (And in the U.K. it would be--top ten, top twenty, top twenty and top forty.) Alex Kapranos has a great mix of natural charisma and what seems like years spent studying/absorbing the pop stars of the video era. He knows exactly when to let his guitar dangle behind his back and clutch the microphone, when a hand gesture amps up a lyric, and when to get a back-and-forth crowd sing-along going. The show even had the classic "introduce each member of the band during the last song" move, cleverly saved for "This Fire," in which each instrument comes in one by one.

The second most animated member, oddly enough, was confined to a chair. Rhythm guitarist Nick McCarthy came out on crutches, offering only "I busted my foot!" as an explanation, but managed to emanate energy from his area of the stage. The pacing of the show was spot on. "Walk Away" provided the first softer moment at a time when a break was needer, the signature hit "Take Me Out" is a second-half rejuvenator, and "40'" and "Outsiders" made for jammy, pleasing dual set closers. "40'" got a spacey, length-doubling treatment and "Outsiders" ended with a unique jam that had the entire group pounding away at the drum kit. (Having four guys with drum sticks also amps up the effectiveness of another classic concert movie, chucking the sticks into the crowd at the end.)

The encore played like a more concise set. "Jacqueline," with it's slow introduction and explosion, is a great opener, and they even threw a b-side into the mix. "Lucid Dreams" provided another moment for the band to stretch and even another drum jam (featuring the excellent opening act, the Born Ruffians,) and "This Fire" followed the wise convention of saving a powerhouse hit to close the show.

The aforementioned video screen was put to good use--everything from simply lights to truly ludicrous videos, including one which sported rotating nude marble statutes, running dogs, and a triangle which featuring the cycling faces of the band. Others were simple but effective lyrical tie-ins--photographs of a girl dancing for "Bite Hard," a pair of smoking lips for "No You Girls"--and use sparingly enough to have maximum impact.

Surprisingly for such a singles-act, those longer, jammier bits were highlights, although the numerous sing-along moments show the band's pop appeal. Although the band's indie favorites status has waned, and the long wait since their last album killed a lot of momentum, the songwriting and showmanship remain intact, and the "best of in the works" setlist shows that it's one hell of a greatest hits CD they're working on.

Dark of the Matinee
No You Girls
The Fallen
Turn It On
Do You Want To
Tell Her Tonight
Twilight Omens
Walk Away
Bite Hard
Take Me Out
What She Came For

Shopping For Blood
Lucid Dreams
This Fire