Blowing Trees singer Chris Maddin always dreamed of putting on a huge stage production of Abbey Road at the Majestic. So far he’s left the Beatles alone, but the “cover album” spectacle he and other noted local musician friends launched in July at Broadway 5050 may very well be SA’s coolest monthly music night.
“We don’t really get that many great bands to come to San Antonio, so we thought it would be great to play songs by a lot of the bands we don’t get to see very often,” Maddin told the Current at the Overtime Theatre, minutes after a show by Marcus Rubio’s Gospel Choir of Pillows. (Rubio is another key member of the Broadway 5050 monthly album night.)
Partly inspired by Maddin’s dream, partly by Beck’s Record Club (an ever-changing gathering of musicians who record themselves playing someone else’s album in a day, often in one take, just “to document what happens”), and encouraged by the fact that drummer/collaborator Chuck Kerr needs “a new project all the time, or else I’ll go crazy,” the covers collective has performed to a packed house both Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (July) and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (August) from start to finish. On four rehearsals and plenty of chutzpah. “We’re not trying to make a huge statement, but have fun,” said Kerr.
On September 29, the band will perform Funeral, Arcade Fire’s first full-length album. While the Wilco night was a strictly musical event, for Ziggy they went all out. Moonboots, sequins, abundance of glitter — even a Bowie-esque blue contact lens, which almost detracted from Maddin/Bowie’s crotch as he bravely performed in a skin-tight unitard. “We were saying, ‘We don’t need to dress up,’” said Kerr. “But then we thought, ‘It would be kind of cool.’ I don’t know if we’ll dress up for every single album, because that’s not our focus. It has to be done organically.”
Newbies are advised to show up early to score tablespace. The fact that the members hail from some of the best local bands doesn’t hurt, but the real draw is their obsessive attention to detail (see: Maddin/Bowie contact). “We couldn’t do what we do in four rehearsals unless we had good musicians who do their homework,” said Kerr. “We all love these albums, and I personally listened to Yankee Hotel ... non-stop for three weeks, and even researched a lot of stuff `Wilco drummer` Glenn Kotche uses on the album. We could work on it for six months, but it would be no fun. Deadlines really work. And we’re trying to keep it manageable: for Funeral we could get 19 guys up there, but we’re trying to keep it challenging by trying to reproduce everything with less hands and feet.”
They solved Ziggy’s fadeouts by linking songs together, and, on Wilco night, set a boundary between recreating the album’s memorable iconic moments and devising on-the-spot magic. For example, Rubio sampled Yankee’s noisy intros and outros, but manipulated them himself. “It’s not that we sample the song and we play,” said Kerr. “`Rubio` samples and then he’s fussing with it while we’re out there. You put a laptop in front of him and he goes crazy.”
I threw Maddin some names of possible future albums for consideration, and the late Elliott Smith turned out to be a common favorite. “There you go,” said an enthusiastic Maddin. “`Smith’s` Xo and From a Basement on the Hill are two of my favorite albums of all time. … No one’s playing Elliott Smith, except perhaps some college stations, and he’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time. … He’s definitely not coming through town anytime soon, so maybe he should be on our list of priorities.”
By the way, October 21 marks the seventh anniversary of Smith’s passing. Hint, hint. •
Chris Maddin and Chuck Kerr present
Arcade Fire’s Funeral
Featuring Marcus Rubio (violin, electric guitar), Chris Guerra (keyboards), Matt Thomas (bass), Libby Wardlaw (vocals, percussion), Meg Lobasso (cello, percussion)
11pm sharp, Wed, Sept 29