New Takes On Classic Songs

Bands covered include: The Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Bob Dylan.

Together for one night only! The Crust Brothers (Pavement's Stephen Malkmus and Silkworm) perform special gig at Seattle's Crocodile Cafe to benefit the Washington Wilderness Coalition! ... At least that's how I imagine the press release from the gig (Dec. 7, 1997) might have run. And I imagine that the reaction to the announcement of the concert was something along these lines: "Well, that looks like an interesting show, but these things almost never pan out. In fact, usually they're under-rehearsed drunken messes with a few nice moments lost in the sprawl of a long, dragged-out evening. Good for a story and not much else."

Now, almost a year later, an album of the concert has surfaced,

available by concealing $15 cash in an envelope and mailing it to an

address you can get from Silkworm's website

(www.cnw.com/~elephant/skwm/). The Crust Brothers' Marquee Mark

showed every sign of being a being a throwaway album, a memento for a

good cause and nothing more. I had every reason to expect a sh--ty

sounding semi-bootleg of an evening better lost to memory. So I was

shocked when Marquee Mark turned out to be a fun album,

showcasing great performances that you didn't have to be there to

appreciate.

Even the sound quality of Marquee Mark is good, effectively

capturing the disorienting, rambling feel of the evening and the music.

Fans shout requests and insults while the band tunes up, argues about

the setlist and decides who's supposed to start. "The next person who

yells out a Pavement song or Silkworm song gets hit over the head," one

of the Crust Brothers warns. "Box Elder!," someone shouts. "What did I

say?," he laughs. "Gonna hit you over the head."

The Crust Brothers play nothing but covers, songs by The Byrds, the

Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd and,

strangest of all, seven songs from Bob Dylan and The Band's The

Basement Tapes. They even cover Silkworm's "I Never Met a Man I

Didn't Like" by having Malkmus sing it. "We're not playing any f---ing

Wallflower songs tonight," the band replies to a heckler. "I don't know

who did that joke."

"Born to choogle," one of the Crust Brothers announces, and the band

kicks off the show with "Going To Acapulco," the first of six successive

songs from The Basement Tapes. Their "Acapulco" is full of

promise and rides a surging guitar riff, in stark contrast to Dylan's

version, a slow ride to nowhere with Dylan wasting away as he sings.

Next is a raucous "Million Dollar Bash" with Malkmus and Silkworm's Andy

Cohen and Tim Midgett trading off verses, finishing each other's lines,

shouting along together on the choruses. It's sloppy, under-rehearsed

fun.

The Crust Brothers adapt their sound to the songs, instead of the other

way around. There are traces of Pavement and Silkworm, but they sound

more rootsy, more rock, more direct than either. They bring something

new to each song, reworking the arrangements, evoking different moods,

making the songs their own. Unlike the funky and surreal original, their

"Yazoo Street Scandal" is frantically noisy and plainly disturbing. A

shambling "You Ain't Going Nowhere" becomes a celebration. The only song

that falls flat is the Stones' "Bitch," which is virtually cover-proof

anyhow.

Toward the end of the show, there's the inevitable cry of "Freebird!"

Instead, they play a different Lynyrd Skynyrd song, "Tuesday's Gone,"

and it's a revelation. Their performance is dramatic without sounding

forced, the intertwining, chiming guitar lines building to an unexpected

climax. They close with "Please Mrs. Henry" off The Basement

Tapes. Instead of Dylan's sly come-on, they thrash out the song as a

desperate, menacing taunt.

Over half the show is from The Basement Tapes. It's such a weird

choice, it almost begs explanation. The songs sit comfortably next to "I

Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Bitch," but these odd,

patched-together tunes are hardly what you'd call classic rock. I'm

tempted to say that the Crust Brothers present a new way to hear these

songs, as part of pop culture, as taking place in some faraway Acapulco.

One of the wonders of this album is that it casually suggests such

possibilities and then, with a shrug and a swig of beer, heads into the

next song.