Play me that song: The art of being a great cover band

Drummer Joe McLean and singer Judy Morris of Les Skidoos Jaune during their cover of Arcade Fire's Rebellion (Lies)

Last Saturday, I was enjoying a pitcher with fellow FTBer Jason C. McLean at Le Bull Pub. As we chatted and enjoyed our beers, I was thoroughly amused when Jason asked me if I was interested in writing an article on the music we were currently enjoying; a performance from Montreal cover band Les Skidoos Jaune.

Jason has pitched me some wild story ideas in the past, but interest from the editor in chief of our undeniably indie leaning, artsy fartsy website (which I say with absolute love and devotion) on a cover band? The interest in an article was undeniably influenced by the fact that Joe, the drummer in the band, is not only a good friend of mine but Jason’s brother.

Well that, and all the beer we’d been drinking.

But our conversation got me thinking. Not only how it would be nice to write about music that people whose social lives don’t revolve around the Plateau might have actually heard about for a change, but also before that night I’d never really thought about just how hard it is to be a cover band. When I think cover band, my mind immediately goes to sketchy/bored looking musicians at a wedding or some seedy dive bar on a Tuesday night, butchering already mediocre to begin with songs. Personally if I hear one more crappy band’s version of Mustang Sally, I just might lose it.

From an audience perspective, having a strong stage presence is that crucial element between a good set and a great set. It may not be fair, but with all the other million bands out there you really have to sell your band to win me over. And when you’re not performing original material, that need to impress me goes up ten fold.

Musicians are some of my favourite kind of people, and I’m so always happy to come out and support my friends when they have a show. But that being said, I wouldn’t have devoted my time to writing an article about Les Skidoos Jaune (which consists of Joe McLean, Phil Leduc, Andrew MacDonald and Judy and Sandra Morris) if they hadn’t had a great show and won me over as a fan.

Les Skidoos do not exist to mildly entertain you while you eat your chicken or fish. These friends and talented musicians play because after the grind of their daily lives (Sandra for instance is a doctor and had just delivered a baby hours earlier!) they want to get together and play music. Just watching Joe hitting those drums or Phil wailing on that guitar and you immediately know the immense pleasure these guys get in playing music. It’s that genuine energy, I think, that’s the most infectious.

It wasn’t only their awesome stage presence that I loved, but their choice not to cover the same five or ten pop songs cover bands always play. Sure they may have played the karaoke staple Don’t Stop Believing (which I’m not ashamed at all to admit I gleefully sang along to in its entirety) but they also performed more under the radar songs like Sea Lion Woman. By the time Les Skidoos got to their version of Arcade Fire’s Rebellion (Lies) the audience which was for the most part not comprised of close friends of the band were all swaying, dancing and singing along happily. And when you go out with your friends to a bar on a Saturday night, what more can you ask for than that?

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