The Top Five Covers of Outside Lands 2010

Categories: Outside Lands
Christopher Victorio
Al Green's soul medley on Sunday had us wearing a stupid grin.
Of all the things we'll remember about this year's Outside Lands festival -- the sun breaking through the fog during Al Green's set, the gaudy costumes of Empire of the Sun, and the incessant oonce oonce from the Heineken tent -- the sometimes-jokey, sometimes-serious cover performances stand out especially vividly. There's something about hearing an artist dive into the first few notes (or middle notes, in some cases), of an instantly recognizable song that's more exciting than hearing, you know, songs you expected to hear. Covers were definitely a thing at Outside Lands 2010 -- here are the five best that we caught (and we didn't catch 'em all) in ascending order of greatness.

5. "Deep Ellum Blues" by the Levon Helm Band
In a tight running with Helm's version of the classic tearjerker "Long Black Veil," this Grateful Dead cover had the 70-year-old former drummer of  the Band out from behind the kit jammin' on a mandolin. Paired up against the guttural throb of Bassnectar on the other side of the festival, Helm's steerage of this song's deep shuffle proved to a mixed-age crowd that dance-worthy grooves don't only come from boxes with buttons.

4." American Girl"/"Last Night" by the Strokes
Maybe this doesn't count as a proper cover, but it plastered far too many grins on the faces of Saturday's throng of Strokes fans not to mention. Singer Julian Casablancas, having warned us of his fairly intense state of intoxication, decided to have a little fun during "Last Nite," and threw in a couple winking lines from Tom Petty's iconic "American Girl." This juxtaposition has a history -- the Strokes basically lifted Petty's riff for their breakout single, and Petty has more or less said he doesn't care. So in keeping with the self-mocking tone of Casablancas' between-song comments on Saturday, the singer decided to remind us just how much debt he owes to the great Petty. Like the rest of his mumbling, it made us laugh.

3. "Could This Be Love" by Nas & Damian Marley
Speaking of debt owed to former greats -- partial repayment of which is often the point of playing covers in the first place -- Bob Marley's youngest son lit up a big crowd Sunday evening by playing one of his father's hits. Sped-up just slightly, but with much of the instrumentation totally intact, Nas and Marley's "Could This Be Love" was immediately recognizable and kind of thrilling -- no matter how tired we are of seeing Bob Marley posters on college dorm-room walls.

2. Soul hits medley by Al Green
Toward the end of his set, Al Green decided to pay homage to some of greats of American soul music with an extended stop-start medley: at the press of his hand, Green triggered his band into playing brief sections of the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," the Temptations' "My Girl," Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me," and Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long," with Green inserting commentary in between. ("Big O!" he shouted, remembering Redding.) We heard some mumblings that it wasn't right for Green to borrow segments of other artists' work, but to us, Green seemed more like an educator than a coattail-rider. The crowd mostly went crazy hearing Green's eerily precise band throw down the classics, and it sure helped that the singer's voice has retained its agility and sparkling falsetto. If he had played more than just snippets of each song's chorus, we're pretty sure Green would've easily taken the award for top cover of Outside Lands 2010.

1. "Time" by Furthur
"Time," as almost any fan of rock music can tell you, begins with an explosion of alarm clocks. On Saturday evening, when an eerily familiar alarm-clock rattle radiated around the sprawling polo fields of Golden Gate Park, we wondered for a tiny moment what it could mean. Then the washy opening chord progression of the Pink Floyd classic rushed through the giant main-stage P.A., and what we had hoped for came true: Futhur were covering Floyd. The former Dead members more or less recreated the watery instrumental dimensions of the original, and even their vocals didn't sound that bad. The killer, though, was John Kadlecik's soaring rendition of the original guitar solo, which left us dazzled enough to almost not get bored when the band took the song into endless-jam territory.  But the first five minutes were so good, those alone can count as the best cover of Outside Lands 2010.

These are the great covers we caught at Outside Lands. What other great ones did you witness? Tell us in the comments.

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