I have loved the idea of the near monthly "Cover the Crescent" events at Crescent Ballroom since its inception and I have attended nearly all of them, but I have never seen a CTC sell out until Friday night.
This particular edition of Cover the Crescent was beyond all others that have preceded it, however. It was three bands, three artists, and a strict attention to three iconic albums. Previous attempts have come close, but clearly when you choose Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Portishead's Dummy and Radiohead's OK Computer, then add to it that some of the greatest talent in Phoenix will be performing it, you get to a near-riot capacity. These are arguably the greatest works of each artist and more importantly, they are seminal works that defined much of what would follow their release.
I got there ten minutes before the strict starting time of 8:15 (Crescent is nerve wrackingly punctual on set times) and sure enough, I had time to grab a drink and get in, get a good spot and bask in the glow of There Is Danger performing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot note for note. The crowd was already enormous. I also realized upon my arrival that all three of these albums were special to me because they were all released during a time in my life when I was eating acid like PEZ, and sometimes on PEZ, and these albums were literally etched in my brain. I had spine-shivers all night long.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is nearly everyone's favorite Wilco album. It is one of the most brilliant albums released in the infancy of the new century and There Is Danger (plus Wooden Indian members Ross Andrews and Mitch Freedom) played it perfectly. You see, there are two ways you can go with a cover show, you can either pay strict homage and go note for note or you can make it your own. There Is Danger went with the former and I wouldn't have it any other way, honestly, right down to the crazy shit between songs and the odd sound effects. Ills Riske was the perfect frontman for this, and everything from "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" to "Reservations" was brilliantly and authentically performed. I have no doubt that they listened to this album for a month nonstop to produce this amazing rendering. It was absolutely flawless. One of my favorite bands performing one of my favorite albums -- perfection.
It is clearly my loss that the first time I caught the Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra was their performance of Portishead's Dummy. Ills Riske (also a member of this band) has been urging me to check them out, but I have a ton of bands that I have to see on a weekly basis, but I will make them a priority. I have this to say, I have seen Portishead live three times and I have never once been as emotionally drawn to their work as I was watching Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra perform their songs.
When Camille Sledge, daughter of Debbie Sledge from the singing group Sister Sledge, takes the place of Beth Gibbons, she shines like a star. This was better than Portishead because Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra brought soul to these songs, they brought an energy that I have always found lacking and the made songs like "Numb" and many others actually fun, enjoyable, soul-filled numbers.
After that, it was time for the main event. I say that because it appeared to be the main event based on folks that were lingering on the patio and in the bar that were downtrodden about not being able to see the "Radiohead Set." Some were willing to listen through the doors -- and it was amazing. Taking on THE game-changing album of the mid-'90s? That's tough work, but everyone was up to it and in its execution. This was, in no uncertain terms, a local super-group that consisted of members of Sweetbleeders, Colorstore, Minibosses, Good Friends Great Enemies, ROAR, and Treasure MammaL -- that alone is enough to assure you of the talent at hand and their capabilities. But could they pull it off? The answer is a very loud YES! It is no wonder lookers on were weeping at the occupancy laws in Phoenix.
Was it all it was going to be cracked up to be? Yes. With vocals split between Vining, Gil and Evans, with the greatest backup band available this side of heaven, how would you think it would turn out? I had my doubts early on, I mean who the fuck would take on OK Computer -- turns out, these guys would, and while I can't say they improved it, I can say they did it fucking right and they did it better than anyone else probably could have. It's a wrestling game really, from "Airbag" to "Paranoid Android," "Exit Music" to "Karma Police," even the vocoder attention to "Fitter Happier," I can only hope that this was recorded on video. If so, watch "No Surprises" or "The Tourist" and tell me how you feel.
This is a monumental album and it got a monumental homage. The best thing of all is that Abe dedicated the show to Amy, Derrick, and Mark before it began, friends and musicians we've all lost in the last two years. Mark Erickson was one of the first performers at a Cover The Crescent show, and he set a standard for it that I think all others should follow. That standard was followed tonight, because it was the greatest Cover the Crescent so far. Every one of these three collectives brought their absolute most and it showed in spades. Brilliant.
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