Shearwater recently stopped by The Onions A.V. Club offices to film an Undercover session while on tour supporting Jet Plane and Oxbow, their acclaimed 2016 release out now on Sub Pop.
In addition to their planned cover (which will air later this season), they surprised The A.V Club with a complete, spot-on performance of David Bowies 1979 album Lodger, which includes songs Bowie himself never attempted live.
The A.V. Club says of the performance, Undercover veterans Shearwater came by the studio earlier this year to tackle a song from the main listbusiness as usual, right? But a couple of days before they showed up, Jonathan Meiburg asked if we might want to film his band covering the entirety of David Bowie’s Lodger, too. Why would we say no to that? So as a special pre-season bonus for Undercover 2016, here’s Shearwater covering Lodger from start to finish, along with an essay by Meiburg explaining his relationship to the classic record.
Shearwaters European summer tour in support of Jet Plane and Oxbow begins June 11th in Antwerp, BE at Bourla and ends July 2nd in Elsloo, NL at Conincx Pop Festival. Please find complete tour dates below.
Shearwaters Jet Plane and Oxbow is available now on CD/ 2xLP/ DL through Sub Pop Mega Mart, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Bandcamp, and at an independent retailer near you.
Jun. 11 – Antwerpen, BE – Bourla
Jun. 12 – London, UK – Field Day Festival
Jun. 14 – Rotterdam, NL – Rotown
Jun. 15 – Aachen, DE – Musikbunker
Jun. 16 – Kriens, CH – B-Sides Festival
Jun. 17 – Sion, CH – Le Port Franc
Jun. 22 – Zagreb, HR – INmusic Festival
Jun. 23 – Ljubljana, SI – Kino Siska
Jun. 24 – Ebensee, AT – Kino Ebensee
Jun. 26 – Budapest, HU – A38
Jun. 27 – Vienna, AT – Arena
Jun. 28 – Munchen, DE – Strom
Jun. 29 – Münster, DE – Gleis 22
Jun. 30 – Groningen, NL – Vera
Jul. 01 – The Hague, NL – Paard van Troje
Jul. 02 – Elsloo, NL – Conincx Pop Festival
Heres Shearwaters Jonathan Meiburg on covering David Bowies Lodger:
MAYBE ITS JUST A TRICK OF THE MIND
What is it about Lodger? Everything about it seems wrong at first. It was billed as the final volume of Bowies Berlin Trilogy, but it sure doesnt sound conclusive; for that matter, it wasnt recorded in Berlin. Bowie didn’t even follow its release with a tourjust an indelibly weird Saturday Night Live performance and a series of videos in which he destroyed pointedly flimsy sets.
As a collection of songs, it seems eclectic to the point of being slapdash. Yassassin was an attempt to invent Turkish reggae; Move On is All the Young Dudes played backwards, and the singles DJ, Look Back in Anger, and Boys Keep Swinging form an ungainly lump in the middle of the record, like a cow thats been swallowed by a python. None of the songs really end; they all fade out on one uneasy groove or another, and sonically its nowhere near the majesty of Heroes or Low. Sonically it sounds claustrophobic and disoriented, and lead guitarist Adrian Belews pyrotechnics are shoved down until they’re tinny and contorted, the opposite of Robert Fripps explosive work on Heroes.
So its a little hard to say why this record, more than either of its predecessors, always cheers me up. Maybe its Bowies gift for making you feel that his mania, his confusion, had something to do with your own; no matter how isolated and estranged from the world you feel, he could reassure you that you werent alone. I rediscovered Lodger last year after some wild traveling; in the span of a couple of months Id been face-to-face with the worlds largest spiders in Guyana and a jaguar in Brazil, certain I was going to die in traffic in Hyderabad, and quaking in terror on a jetliner circling the Persian Gulf as it dumped fuel for an emergency landing. When I finally got home, I wanted to hide in a corner with a blanket over my head and never leave the house again.
Listening to Lodger over and over helped the world seem less frightening, or at least made my own anxiety more digestible. So many of the lines resonated: Red sail action/wake up in the wrong town/boy, I really get around! sums up a dislocated thrill well known to anyone whos been on a tour, while the high-speed slideshow of African Night Flight nails the feeling of a trip gone sour: Sick of you!/sick of me!/lust for the free life/quashed and maimed/like a valuable loved one/left unnamed!
And touring was on my mind. Our new record was coming out, and I wanted to do something special in the live show. I was listening to Lodger for the third time in a row one Saturday morning, dancing and singing along, and thought: What if we just played this? It almost seemed like Bowie had thrown down a gauntlet by naming Lodger as one of his favorite albums while rarely (or never) playing its songs, even though the songs seemed fairly…well, playable, with a little work. (Heroes would be a different story). We were taking the album apart in tour rehearsals when I got a text from a friend in the middle of the night that read: Bowie.
Hours later, the news was everywhere. It was a weird feeling; our little stunt suddenly felt much heavier, and I wondered for a minute if we should put it aside. I had secretly hoped that if we did a really good job, Bowie might hear about it one way or another; maybe I could invite him to our New York show! Now all that vanished in a sobering instant. Now it was just music.
But what music.Lodger turned out to be trickier (and more fun) to play than Id imagined, and as we peeled back the songs sonic layers, they revealed clever and coherent structures under the surface of their desperation and bewilderment. I did my best to serve up ersatz versions of Adrian Belew and Carlos Alomars guitar lines (difficult), and to sing without just aping Bowie (nearly impossible), and we invented endings to replace the fade-outs. When we finally started playing the songs live, a few at a time, we were all surprised how alive they felt, how fresh they would sound if they came out today.
At a sold-out night inChicago we figured what the hell and did the whole thing as a 45-minute encoreand the audience went nuts. It had a cumulative effect I hadnt expected. We were still buzzing when we rolled in to the A.V. Club the next day for Undercover, and I asked if we could play Lodger for them, too. (Thanks for going for it, A.V. Club). We even pulled the colored gels out of the fluorescent lights we used in our shows to give the session more of an Isolar II-style atmosphere.
There are plenty of funny moments, of course, since its alive one-take; I spaced on my favorite lyric in Red Money (Reet-petite and how-de-do!), and youll see my mic stand break on DJ and then collapse during Look Back In Anger. Normally Id have stopped the song, but that ones a real basher for the bass and drums, and I didnt want to put Sadie and Josh through it twiceso I dove to the floor and just kept going. Listening back, I think it turned out pretty well, though I bet it looks ridiculous. But I also cant think of a better metaphor for Lodger itself. In the weirdest and best way, its inspirational music.