Upon listening to Patrick Stickles’s cover of “Hey Tonight” by Free Energy, you’ll probably be struck by how different it sounds from his recordings with Titus Andronicus. To a certain degree, that’s to be expected. I mean, he’s playing someone else’s composition without his usual collaborators. It only makes sense that the end product sounds noticeably different. Of course it’s not gonna have the massive guitar solos, or twelve sharp musical left turns, or million-man arrangements that we’ve come to expect from Titus Andronicus. “Duh doy, TWG,” you say to yourself. “Duh doy.”
But the thing is, I think Stickles’s cover sounds even more atypical than I would expect. Although you’d never mistake a Free Energy song for one by Titus Andronicus, they’re still relatively similar groups. Both have a knack for massive, anthemic shout-alongs, and they both have tons of Weezer alleles in their DNA1. Their similarities, however, really aren’t all that evident on this particular track.
The reason for that, in my opinion, lies in the track’s vocal part. While Titus do love them some short, repetitious vocal parts,2 those sections are always balanced by ones with much longer phrasing and SAT vocabulary. That dichotomy serves not only as a technical counterpoint to their shout-along, but also to make those sections all the more forceful. Take their track “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future.” In that song, hearing Stickles ramble effusively about losing his humanity through a dozen apt metaphors makes the ending refrain of “YOU’LL ALWAYS BE A LOSER” hit even harder in comparison. If anyone repeats something, then you know it’s important, but if Patrick Stickles repeats something, then you really know it’s important.
I think that’s why the track in question sounds so different from his usual output. The breathless shout-along section is still there, but there’s no sprawling, verbose verse to balance it out. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this approach, but it’s nevertheless surprising to hear it coming from an artist who regularly takes a different route. That’s really one of my favorite things about cover songs: they make artists do things they wouldn’t normally do.
Since Halloween1 is coming up soon, and I was listening to Titus Andronicus’s still monstrous 2010 album The Monitor today, I had the sudden urge to go dig through their blogspot so that I could re-read lead singer and guitarist Patrick Stickles’s post about playing a horrific show on Halloween 2009. It’s a great read, alternately funny and scary in a not fun at all way. Here’s a link to it. You should really read it.2 Part of the way through, there was a line that really got me thinking.
Stickles says that the night was so shitty that even “playing the all-time greatest guitar lick at the end of the “Buddy Holly” solo* did NOT make [him] feel better.”
That line made me realize something about the little trifles I write about covers on this blogsite thing: I always approach them from a listener’s perspective. That is, I’ve never written about covers from the perspective of the one playing them. I don’t ever really write about the experience of playing a cover itself. As the especially astute readers have already guessed, that’s what I’m gonna do now.
Stickles’s comment really sums up one facet of the appeal of playing covers. It’s just fun, man**. Playing a song you love is experiencing it at an even deeper level than just listening to it. It’s like playing musical dress-up. You get to pretend for a moment that you’re Rivers Cuomo playing that rad fucking lick when the band drops out at the end of the solo. Playing a song by an artist you love is like getting to climb inside your favorite painting. It’s like artistic communion. Anyone who’s ever played the riff from “Smoke On The Water” on their friend’s guitar knows that feeling, like you’re getting to see something at a different level.
Of course, there are other reasons that playing covers are fun and/or artistically rewarding, but today, Dolphin/Shark is all about fun. That’s why the mp3 above is of a different Weezer song. I can’t find a recording of the Tituses playing “Buddy Holly” so I put up one of them playing “El Scorcho” instead. Whatever, man! It’s a good cover! We’re just having fun!
1. Halloween is objectively the best holiday.
2. The reveal of the costume he’s wearing is so fucking great. Seriously, go read it.
SUPERSECRET BIH SNEAK FOOTNOTES:
*This is my all-time favorite Weezer moment. Seeing as how I do not particularly care for them, there are few others.
**Speaking/writing as someone who was in a band in high school—one that did, in fact, play covers at shows—I can confirm that it is indeed fun, man.