A record like Dookie, the magnum opus from the Bay Area’s arguably-most-popular punk band, Green Day, was not so much another album in the shop as it was a sonic bombshell going off, whose waves were felt in scenes across the Earth. The raw energy and youthful vigor had rarely been presented in so straightforward and familiar a manner, especially in a format and at a time that it was almost universally accessible to everyone looking for something refreshing and powerful in the current world. Dookie, by scene purists, may be remembered as the record that shoved one of the loudest, wildest dimensions of the music world into the spotlight, and while they may revile this fact, Dookie’s influence and impact on all music that came after it is undeniable. It still stands tall as one of the greatest records of its age, and one of the most famous to come from the East Bay of Northern California. It was fitting, therefore, that the Bay Area collective UnderCover culled together a collection of local players, all passionate fans of the effect this record had on them in their younger years, to kick off this year’s UnderCover Presents series with a 15-band tribute to one of the seminal works of 90s punk rock.
With so much to cover, I’ll be doing this in the style of the show: 15 mini-reviews of all of the songs, with photos for each, and a wrap-up at the end. Read on!
1. Marston – “Burnout”
Singer/songwriter Oona Garthwaite and the members of Marston kicked off the show with a dark-but-funky cover of “Burnout” — a gentle ease-in rather than a sudden firecracker burst. It picked up near the end, as Garthwaite continued bellowing the ending refrain at the crowd, beckoning for them to sing along. Definitely unexpected for those very familiar with the original track, but an excellent tone-setter for the evening to come.
2. La Plebe – “Having A Blast”
If anything, the mariachi punks of La Plebe proved that this song was designed to be covered in ska style — and in Spanish, too! Despite staying mostly static in the dark shadows around them, the quintet nonetheless threw a full tank of gas into their onstage engines and tore through the sophomore track with a riotous frenzy.
3. Sal’s Greenhouse – “Chump”
Nothing says Oakland like bouncy, fresh soul, and Sally Green and her backing band were more than keen to deliver. Green was a real treat to behold, dancing and leaping about the stage as the music churned around her, and later wowed the crowd by utterly nailing a baritone sax solo. Not quite a stomper like the previous track, “Chump” was nonetheless a party-starter and got a good chunk of the crowd grooving along.
4. Jazz Mafia’s Choral Syndicate – “Longview”
It seems very appropriate that one of the most well-known songs of Dookie had the strangest reimagining yet: a 35-person choir and miniature orchestra, with the vocal stylings of conductors Trance Thompson and Tym Brown paired with singer Gabriela Welch, Joe Bagale, and Felecia Walker, who worked with remarkable harmony to bring this gospel cover to life. Never has a song about masturbation sounded so inspiring!
5. MoeTar – “Welcome To Paradise”
Things already began a turn for the unusual with Moorea Dickson and the dueling axes of MoeTar slamming, pausing, skimming, and grooving through a prog-cum-jazz cover of “Welcome To Paradise”, painting a musical palette almost as unsettling as the song topic. Bassist Tarik Ragab and guitarist Matthew Charles Heulitt pinged collective licks back and forth between the passionate vocal deliveries, building from slow jams to rapid-fire bursts. Definitely one of the most fascinating tracks of the evening.
6. Love Songs – “Pulling Teeth”
Short, straight, and to the point — this is a punk rock record, and Love Songs came and delivered precisely that. The audience barely knew what had hit them by the time the song abruptly ended minutes later, and singer/guitarist Craig “Craigums” Billmeier had barely broken a sweat, despite snapping across the stage a few times like a mouse caught in a sprung trap. If the somber songs that had started the evening had lulled the energy at all, Love Songs cranked it back into overdrive.
7. The Fuxedos: “Basket Case”
Forget anything you thought you knew about this song, about the album, or about music whatsoever. The Fuxedos’ brand of performance is nothing short of a massive, 50-car pileup, in which each vehicle is a musical genre gone wrong and survivors scramble from door to door trying to find some solace. In a single song, the band jumped from soul, to death metal, to jazz, to punk, and even to straight-up evangelical gospel. Stunning to behold and the highlight of the night!
8. Goodnight, Texas – “She”
Perhaps still trying to clear off the debris left after the Fuxedos had leveled the stage, Goodnight, Texas delivered a crooning, somber, but nonetheless darkly-bluesy rendition of “She” that did well to chill to the bone. Major chords were traded for minor in a ballad bordering on the sinister, proving that even the folksiest of rockers can still carry that furious passion in their tunes.
9. MC Rai – “Sassafrass Roots”
By far the largest departure from the original piece, MC Rai’s Balkan-twinged dance cover of “Sassafrass Roots” was barely recognizable under heavy layers of otherwordly instrumentation and jangling Arabic melodies. The sudden appearance of belly dancers and a gigantic taiko-style drum got more than a few puzzled looks from the crowd, but those more in a festive mood were more than happy to dance along to the eclectic piece.
10. NVO featuring Bosko – “When I Come Around”
One should never fully write autotune or electronic music off as temporary gags used only in comedic style, and Bosko proved that even greater feats are possible, thanks to some app magic and the warbling, glittering synths of NVO. Another quick jaunt, surprisingly reminiscent of Love Songs earlier, it was nonetheless a fun, playful piece that showed off some truly wonderful technological talent.
11. Skank Bank – “Coming Clean”
While not as blatantly ska as La Plebe before them, the young men of Skank Bank nonetheless blasted out a wild and fun cover of “Coming Clean” with a new brand of energy, even getting some fellow skankers in the audience to bounce around in their onlooking crowd. Short and sweet but wonderful to watch, theirs was another late crest in the ebb and flow of the evening.
12. Awesome Orchestra – “Emenius Sleepus”
The sudden transition from a 4-piece rock band to a 60-person orchestra was rather jarring, but the gorgeous, sweeping cover of “Emenius Sleepus” did just the right amount of magic on the crowd that was likely wary to see such a large ensemble grace the stage. With singer Sam Schwartz on vocals, it was a rather transcendent performance.
13. Martin Luther – “In The End”
One of the most polar changes from the original to the cover, Luther’s deep, soulful croon put a mournful-but-lovely spin on the penultimate track, best known for being one of the last straight-up onslaughts of punk rock before the record’s conclusion. Luther’s sudden jerky movement to take his acoustic guitar and smash it, while likely an expression of passion, seemed unfortunately out of place in its suddenness, but the rest of the performance helped this outburst to be smoothed over.
14. Tilt – “F.O.D.”
How very fitting is it for a bunch of old-school punks to end the performance of an album by some newer-school punks? Judging by the sonic onslaught that bellowed forth from the stage for the climax track, it was absolutely appropriate, and the members of Tilt managed to all but entirely drown out the massive Awesome Orchestra that played behind them. Rarely has their been a better time to share some camaraderie in bellowing “fuck off and die!” at the top of one’s lungs.
15. UnderCover – “All By Myself”
The last song of the night was definitely the biggest shift — the original song was Green Day drummer Tré Cool jamming on an acoustic guitar, while this played host to the entire cast of musicians that had graced the stage. Nevertheless, the audience got in on the act, roaring out the words that appeared onscreen above the ensembles. A fitting end to a mammoth show.
And the rest…
Well, of COURSE Green Day was there!
Giving poignant speeches about those times in their lives, the world of the East Bay, and the way things had ended up along the way, Billie Joe Armstrong and his cohorts Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool graced the stage twice that evening. Halfway through the show, they were called up to receive a proclamation from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, declaring February 19th, 2016 to be “Green Day Day” in celebration of their contributions to art and culture in the Bay Area, and traded stories with their first road manager and the assembled staff of UnderCover. Later, Cool was seen lurking at the edge of the stage for “All By Myself”, and was thrust into the spotlight along with the other two members. An end-of-the-evening Green Day performance, however, was not to be had, despite continued chants from those on and off the stage, but the excitement to see the trio was amazingly palpable.
The artists that make up UnderCover are all marvelously talented in their own right, and came together to form a massive, sprawling performance that was dizzying in its scope and span. I definitely found the juxtaposition of deep soul and slow jazz to be a very strange pairing with a record that symbolized a new expression of rebellious and angry youth, but perhaps that could be perceived as the most against-the-grain way to put it all together — extremely apt, given the subject matter. It was definitely a fantastic opportunity to behold dozens of brilliant musicians, all local to the Bay Area, and all worth checking out in their own capacity. If ever you want to see a showcase of amazing local talent, paired with a playlist that hits the nostalgia nerves with remarkable precision, don’t miss UnderCover’s performances.
All photos © 2016 Jonathan Pirro.