For the Sake of the Song on covers, community, and the Rolling Stones
Cover songs: we never seem to tire of them.
They are the inspiration for entire albums; apart from cats, they are YouTube’s richest source of material. There is something irresistible about a familiar, even beloved, song delivered in a new way. Novelty and nostalgia are a winning combination.
Patrick Coman discovered this by accident. His monthly tribute series at the Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville, For the Sake of the Song, has been a favorite among critics and audiences for the past two years. After moving to Boston in 2009, Coman started a house concert series featuring local bands and singer/songwriters. The series quickly outgrew his living room, and for his first show at the Amory, which happened to fall around the new year, Coman thought it would be fun to play through the entirety of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The audience’s response was overwhelming, and he was stuck with the gig.
It’s a burden Coman happily shoulders. He is, understandably, less interested in unpacking the mysterious appeal of cover songs than in using them to introduce audiences to local talent.
“I don’t like to call it a cover series; I like to call it a tribute series,”
he says, “because we’re taking artists that aren’t cover bands, that are original artists, and giving, I guess, people that aren’t familiar with their work a way in.”
It’s not exactly a new concept—plenty of independent artists have mined the discographies of their more successful colleagues to varying degrees of success. Cat Power has done it twice, first with 2000’s The Covers Record and again in 2008 with Jukebox. Covers contains one of her most remarkable treatments, a haunting rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Power dispenses with the catchy rhythmic hook, singing low and close over the cool reverberations of a single electric guitar. Few of the original’s memorable moments exist in this version—Power doesn’t even bother with the iconic chorus—but the song epitomizes the possibilities opened up in a truly inventive cover. Jagger’s lyrics, once jittery and combative, become dark and contemplative in Power’s rendering. “’Cause you see I’m on a losing streak,” she croons, and she doesn’t need to say it—we know, with chilling certainty, that satisfaction is beyond her grasp.
For the Sake of the Song will offer its own take on the Rolling Stones in its most ambitious project yet: a complete rendition of the double LP Exile on Main St. Coman has enlisted the help of ‘70s-style rockers Brownboot, along with a passel of local singer/songwriters and his own band, Patrick Coman and the Lo-Fi Angels. Coman likes to give his performers free reign to interpret the material however they wish—this, he believes, is the secret to the series’ success.
With any luck, on Thursday someone will be hit with Cat Power-esque inspiration, and Exile on Main St. will be changed for us forever, for the better.
EXILE ON ELM STREET
PRESENTED BY FOR THE SAKE OF THE SONG