People Like To Cover PJ

by Kathy Davis on May 18, 2009

A couple of stories about interesting live cover versions of Pearl Jam songs have recently crossed the TFT newsdesk.  First, country duo Sugarland performed a cover of “Better Man” at their April 30th performance in Austin, TX.  Blogger Brandon at Brandon’s Buzz had this to say about the show: 

In much the same way that it’s foolish (and mightily inaccurate) to box Sugarland in as a mere country band – if you need to prove that thesis, look no further than Inside‘s “Love” (which they bravely chose to open this show with!), whose refrain is every bit as anthemic as anything from U2′s Achtung Baby era – it was staggering to see on display the full breadth of Nettles and Bush’s musical proclivities: in addition to charging through the highlights of their own discography, they dared to cover the likes of R.E.M. (you can’t fathom how brilliant “Nightswimming” sounds when it’s falling from Nettles’ charmed lips), Pearl Jam (without changing a syllable of the text, (singer Jennifer) Nettles brings a wholly original sense of burning fear and regret to “Better Man“), and the B-52′s (they closed the show with a rollicking rendition of “Love Shack,” replete with Nettles fearlessly rocking the Afro wig to end them all), not to mention Madonna and The Emotions (verses of whose respective smashes “Holiday” and “Best of My Love” Nettles managed to work into a “remix” of “Everyday America”). Even before the show, I was ready to proclaim the ferociously fine Nettles as the female vocalist of her generation (just like Martina, Reba, Dolly, and Tammy were the heroines of theirs), but after watching her put her own unique stamp on some of the very best music of the past three decades, I’m this close to ready to call her the best period.

As we reported here, former PJ drummer Matt Chamberlain performed May 15th in San Francisco with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau as part of SF Jazzfest. The song choices were very Seattle-esque and included a cover of “Jeremy”. How we’d love to hear this unique song treatment!  Jim Harrington of the San Jose Mercury News reviewed the show:

The Brad Mehldau Weekend” kicked off on Friday night as he performed in a cool duo setting with drummer Matt Chamberlain. The drummer isn’t well known in the jazz world, but he’s pure money in the pop/rock world. Most notably, perhaps, is that he was the guy setting the beat in an early incarnation of Pearl Jam. (You can see him at the kit in the band’s very first video, “Alive.”)

This was the first time they’d played out as a duo and Mehldau picked a very appropriate set list for the show. He decided to honor the music of Seattle, in particular the city’s fabled early ’90s grunge movement.

Now, nobody in the jazz game does a better job at transforming modern rock/pop compositions into jazz-speak than Mehldau. He’s been doing it for years – recording tunes by such acts as Radiohead and Paul Simon – and they usually turn out to be true highlights of his albums.

Friday’s main set, held at the Yerba Buena Center in SF, started with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and ended with Nirvana’s “Lithium.” In between, Mehldau and Chamberlain covered tunes by all the great Seattle grunge acts – Alice in Chains (“Get Born Again”), Pearl Jam (“Jeremy”)  and Soundgarden (“Spoonman”).

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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