Monday, March 20, 2017
“ZOHOVE – Beninghove’s Hangmen Play Led Zeppelin”
(Very Special Recordings)
“Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana”
(Very Special Recordings)
Hold on – I’m in love with Benninghove’s Hangmen’s (that’s tough to make possessive) take on Zep, but first I’m going to jump into Super Hi-Fi’s dub reworking of Nirvana.
And even before that – what gives these guys the right, anyway, either of these bands, to tackle the hallowed duo at the top of the classic rock radio playlist? And yes, I realize it’s weird to consider Nirvana within the “classic rock” pantheon, but here we are. It’s classic rock. I remember when I was growing up – well, in junior and senior high, anyway (there’s me aging myself) – Nirvana, even when they were a fledgling little upstart, would be played on the local radio with all the big boys, even back in the early 1990s. It pretty much all but guaranteed them continual (and well-deserved) airplay in perpetuity.
Digression aside, it’s weirdly refreshing to hear such wildly updated versions of these songs. Super Hi-Fi, from Brooklyn, traffics in Jamaican dub and first-wave ska (or whatever wave if you want to argue with Ronald Thomas Clontle), and while that’s not my go-to style, really at any time, the vibe with which these guys groove through such well-remembered songs (“Heart Shaped Box” and “Polly” probably being the most recognizable) casts them in a light that renders them almost indistinguishable from the originals. This practice, if you ask me, is the best way to cover a song. Put your own spin on it! Back in my band-playing days we did a similar thing to Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?,” basically rewriting the music and placing the lyrics within it. No one knew what we were playing until the chorus. It was lots of fun. It sounds like Super Hi-Fi is having a great time here too. And the fact that the tape is instrumental, with vocal lines being performed by guitar or brass depending on the song (or part of the song) is an extra stamp of uniqueness. Other songs here include “Verse Chorus Verse,” “Something in the Way,” “Love Buzz,” and the Leadbelly cover made popular by Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” A track called “Space Needle,” written by some dude named Ezra Gale (just kidding, he plays bass here and also runs VSR), makes two appearances, each a different version.
Benninghove’s Hangmen don’t even remotely play it subtle. And really, how can you with Zep? Zep is not subtle. Zep is a blast furnace opened wide in your face. Benninghove’s Hangmen do not shirk that responsibility. Also taking an instrumental approach with guitars and brass handling the vocal lines, a wise move when you’re replacing someone like Robert Plant, the songs breathe a little more, get a little more raucous than maybe you’re used to. I’m weirdly reminded of late 1980s/early 1990s SNL, when G. E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live band would play a ripping cover song into commercial. And that is a really good thing in this instance (and the big question is, do Eyal Maoz and Dane Johnson make G. E. Smith guitar faces when they play?). Nostalgia meets balls. And hey, Ezra Gale plays bass in this band too! I sense a trend. Excellent choice of cover material too, as “Kashmir,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “D’yer Maker,” and “When the Levee Breaks,” among others, make appearances.
Did I just gush over two cover albums? I sure did. That feels so weird to me, but you should really track these down for a treat.