Kelly Clarkson

Covered: “Since U Been Gone”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

After reading all these articles about the omnipresent-yet-invisible songwriter Max Martin, as well as seeing Tokyo Police Club perform a version of the song, I have now thought about the song “Since U Been Gone” far more in the past few weeks than at any other point previously in my life.  It is definitely one of the modern pop songs that bothers me the least, though that is in no small part due to the fact that I was able to avoid hearing it repeated ad nauseam during its initial lifespan.  The fact that it is also a well-constructed song also works in its favor, with a great dynamic contrast between the soft verses and loud chorus, as well as that big hook in that memorable chorus melody.  There must be a reason why indie rock fans would cop to liking this song…

Oh yeah, that reason would be because Martin in fact looked to indie rock for songwriting inspiration.  Not only did he co-opt that trademark Pixies loud/soft contrast, but he reworked a previous hit song, “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  He even admits this was his intention.  From The Atlantic, paraphrasing from John Seabrook’s recent book, The Song Machine:

They are listening, reportedly, to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”—an infectious love song, at least by indie-rock standards. Martin is being driven crazy by the song’s chorus, however, which drops in intensity from the verse. Dr. Luke says, “Why don’t we do that, but put a big chorus on it?” He reworks a guitar riff from the song and creates Kelly Clarkson’s breakout hit, “Since U Been Gone.”

It is hilarious that Martin misunderstands that the drop in intensity was an intentional maneuver on the part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and helped strengthen the impact of the lyrics.  In a nutshell, that explains the difference between the approaches to songwriting in pop and indie rock–why be subtle when you can shout your intentions at the top of your lungs?  In this case, both ways worked.

But we should give kudos to Ted Leo for spotting the similarities between the two songs years before it was confirmed, and smoothly blending the two into a seamless whole.  The “Since U Been Gone/Maps” mash-up ends up being a good primer for the Ted Leo novice, as it shows both his vocal range and guitar chops (even with a minor flub at the end of the bridge taken into consideration), which helps elevate the cover above the standard “fans playing a favorite song in their bedroom” that can be found all over YouTube.  And it is proof once again that Ted Leo is the fucking coolest dude on the planet.

Tokyo Police Club, Live at the Doug Fir

Last night’s Tokyo Police Club show at the Doug Fir captured the vibe of being packed into a basement for a house party, except for the fact that floors were not nearly as sticky and the band was way more professional and polished than whomever Dave could bribe to play for a case of cheap domestic.  The devoted showed up in full force last night, ready to sing along to to tracks that date back to the group’s first EP, and the group complied with an enthusiastic and lively set.

David Monks mid-rock-out maneuver

David Monks mid-rock-out maneuver

The band kicked off the show with a modification to their recent setlist by opening with “Breakneck Speed”, slightly altering the lyrics to say “it’s good to be back in Portland” in a nice bit of showmanship.  “Hot Tonight”, an effervescent highlight from their most recent album Forcefield soon followed, and set the mood for the evening.  The new material mixed in well with the old material, with the group focusing heavily on songs from the Champ era in filling out a twenty song set.

We were even treated to a couple of new songs, with bassist/singer David Monks giving a bit of the backstory for “PCH”, noting that the events of the romance took place on that highway that was, to paraphrase, not that far off from here.  Another highlight was fan-favorite “Bambi”, complete with an extended intro that did a great job in disguising what was to come, as well as early cuts like “Nature of the Experiment” and the infectious “Your English Is Good”.  For the encore, we were even treated to a cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”, which managed to accomplish the difficult task of captivating this crowd packed with hipsters.

A good look at the friendly fellows

A good look at the friendly fellows

Openers The Domestics did a great job with their pop-rock set, effectively setting the mood for the rest of the night.  The local act kept the audience’s attention with a varied setup, switching between instruments and vocalists, all the while delivering punchy and engaging songs.  They will definitely be a highlight on many bills around town.