Playing somebody else’s songs | Music | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Playing somebody else’s songs

Cover shows are fun, but a double-edged sword for the people who perform in them.

click to enlarge Playing somebody else’s songs
Alanis, Taylor and Tori: You can be all three and still go home sad.

In whole acts of love and admiration, here are the tribute shows I have personally produced, played and sung in: Tori Amos, Under the Pink (May 9, 2014); Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (June 12, 2015, two shows); Tori Amos, Boys for Pele (January 20, 2016). These are three of the most important albums of my life and those shows marked each of their 20th anniversaries. It felt significant and special to be able to find like-minded musicians/fans who wanted to celebrate them too, a long-shot high school dream somehow made real. The audiences were attentive, appreciative. (Alanis sold better than Tori, if you're wondering. Art imitates life.)

In minor acts of love and admiration, I have also participated in two Taylor Swift tributes as part of the band Wildest Dreams: The first time was February 13, 2015 (Galentine's Day) at The Company House, two back-to-back shows that were the most insane I've played in my life, women crammed against the stage screaming in the band members' faces. We sat backstage, crammed on the couch, agape at the circumstances out front. The other was at The Seahorse on November 21, 2015, equally crazy with a line stretching through the back parking lot down Portland Place. I had to lie to a bouncer that my friend was singing just to get her in the door. We sold out of advance tickets for all three shows.

These Swift events were markedly different experiences than the 20th anniversary gigs I'd put on. They were intense, frenzied. People screamed themselves hoarse with a joy I couldn't explain or capture on my own, but loved witnessing—the first time, at least. During the two-show I played guitar on a bunch of songs, sang a few, still have the video of the crowd yelling the "Shake It Off" rap with Kim Harris in perfect unison.

The second time, my enthusiasm for actually being in the band had started to wane even as I stepped out to sing "Blank Space" in my Swifty Keds.

People misremember those shows as being really close together—implying the less sincere cash-grab angle—but they were almost nine months apart. And nine months later the fever pitch was at the same height. In the interim, people had started approaching me—at bars, at the Jazz Fest, once in the Cohn—To scream "Taylor Swift!" or "Alanis!" "You know what you should do next?" a nice man suggested. "No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom."

Meanwhile, I was playing shows in my own band to three to 30 people, making six to 40 dollars a night, trying to pay for a record I'd been working on for three years. I wasn't trying to replicate an era, or make a bunch of money, I just wanted to sing some songs I love, that I knew others loved too.

A third Taylor Swift show, at The Marquee, was planned, and I bowed out completely. The idea of that giant room selling out for Swifty while I sent $25 email transfers to my own bandmates made me sad, no matter how much fun I'd had before. There was a storm that March 2016 night, and still 400 people went, a technical disappointment. I'd just played the Boys for Pele show in January, and it had underperformed too, but I'd loved the experience of it so much I didn't care.

On any one of these nights, I'd come off stage after my songs and people would stop me, and the other singers: "Do you play around town?" Nearly all of us are in bands, and we would dutifully answer with our respective monikers and upcoming shows.

We wouldn't see those people again, because they weren't connected to us, they were connected to the hits of others. They loved the music, and this was as close as they could get to it live in Halifax. Who performed it was beside the point.

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