So guess where I was this weekend? If you said, “On your couch, watching hours of European soccer, NASCAR and playoff basketball, without exhibiting the slightest inkling of productivity,” you’d be DEAD WRONG, alright?
That was the weekend before.
I’m proud to say that this weekend, I was up in the fine state of New Jersey, providing the music for my cousin Leigh’s wedding ceremony with the dinged-up, pink-tape-sporting guitar amp pictured above. This was my second gig playing guitar at a wedding (the first was at my sister’s in Chicago a few years ago, in which instance you could technically say I opened for David Vandervelde), and I’m so happy Leigh and her newly-minted husband Dan asked me to be a part of their special day. One of the best parts was corresponding with Leigh beforehand about which songs I’d play and when in the ceremony I’d play them. Helping my cousin choose the soundtrack to one of life’s most meaningful events was an incredible honor.
The funny thing is, though Leigh and I exchanged messages about the playlist, brides actually miss out on like half of the tunes. Seems unfair, right? Some random second cousin’s +1 gets to hear everything, but the bride, fulfilling her role as the fashionably late piece in the processional puzzle, only gets to hear the second-to-last and last songs? An outrage! I thought I’d remedy this by recreating the experience for Leigh via some favorite cover versions of all 4 songs played, along with a link to a runner-up for each (sorry, YouTube has way too much cool stuff to choose just one), starting with the music that helped the guests get settled in their seats.
The Swell Season — “Into The Mystic” (Van Morrison cover)
The Swell Season — the duo featured in the touching movie Once — get dibs on “Into The Mystic,” in part because of Glen Hansard’s Irish origins. OK, OK, so Van Morrison was actually from Northern Ireland, which [checking Wikipedia] is separate from Ireland in… [checking Wikipedia again] various complicated ways. Regardless, their version of “Into The Mystic” is a great one, intimate yet inviting, bathed in the same warmth that made Once such a relatable story.
Honorable Mention: Zac Brown Band and their extended version of “Free,” which contains a verse of “Into The Mystic.” During the reception, I talked to Dan about how we both love Zac Brown Band, and though I hadn’t heard this version of “Free” before writing this post, its existence — as tenuous as the connection may be — makes me feel like the seating music was somehow meant to be. Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, if you haven’t heard their cover of Ryan Adams’ “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” watch a live version here. Gives me goosebumps.
Corinne Bailey Rae and Herbie Hancock — “Blackbird” (Beatles cover)
Did y’all catch this? Corinne Bailey Rae and Herbie Hancock playing “Blackbird” as part of the concert at the White House that honored Sir Paul McCartney for being awarded the Gershwin Prize? He’s still called “sir” when he’s on American soil, right? Why can’t Americans get cool-ass titles like that? Which of our musicians do you think would get one? Could we turn it into a reality show somehow? Can I nominate Tom Bergeron as the host? What were we talking about? “Blackbird,” right? Right! This version, which features just piano and vocals is delicate, then daring, then delicate again, and Hancock’s adventurous middle section adds a fun dose of extrapolation to what’s normally a faithfully covered song, which may be why I love this so much.
Honorable mention: Evan Rachel Wood’s version from Across the Universe. I love the slower tempo. This was actually my plan for Saturday, but I got all nervous and sped the song up to a tempo not far from the original one, kinda like a third-grader who spits his whole book report out in 5 syllables. OK, maybe not that fast.
Ari Hest — “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen cover)
For “Hallelujah,” I have to share the version of the song that I fell in love with first: the live one done by Ari Hest, a singer-songwriter I saw play when I was in college. Quick side note about Hest — I get the impression that he has an insanely fine-tuned ear, as I remember him making slight adjustments to his guitar’s tuning pegs during songs, even though he was in the middle of singing and playing. Blows my mind when people do that. Hest’s rendition of “Hallelujah” offers a great balance of embellishment and restraint, with a few signature departures (his ascending falsetto in the second half is a noticeable example) that make the arrangement feel distinctive, but never showy.
Honorable mention: Jeff Buckley’s. What can I say, other than that it gives my goosebumps goosebumps.
Peter Bjorn and John — “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” (Paul Simon cover)
Chose this one because Peter Bjorn and John’s “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” is miles away from other versions, downplaying the most recognizable element — the catchy guitar line — in favor of a sparseness that toys with the song’s upbeat nature. Throw in a goofy bass line of single, unsustained notes played at the far left of a piano (I think), and what do you get? A cover gem, that’s what.
Honorable mention: Fun. has started playing the song at live shows, including at this year’s Bonnaroo, despite not actually knowing the words. Some might say that you should learn the words to a song before you play it in front of thousands of people. I say that when your band’s name is Fun., you can do whatever the hell you want.
Congrats, Leigh and Dan! It was an honor to have been a part your wedding, and I couldn’t be more excited for you two wonderful people to start your lives together. OK, I need to end this post before I get all misty…