by Fionna Farrell
photo by Amelia Connelly
[originally published April 22, 2022]
For some gloriously stupid, un-covid related reason, I missed the coverband showcase last semester. Had my cat fallen ill? Had the five-minute walk to the ‘Sco proven too much for my atrophied legs? I really can’t remember, but I do remember kicking myself (so my legs worked, after all) because I had missed a seminal night of Oberlin Oberlin-ness. By that, I mean that I missed the chance to see my peers make like David Byrne and his lamp. What hurts even more is that, as an Oberlin student and generally insufferable person, Talking Heads and Pixies are literally two of my favorite bands. Why would I lie?
Anyway, safe to say I had extremely high expectations for this spring’s showcase. The winding line outside the ‘Sco seemed to be a portent for the fun, inebriated times ahead. So what if no one could move their arms in the crowd (except for when absolutely necessary, like holding up their lighter during that one F&M song)? And there seemed to be a lot less of that frenetic nervousness that has plagued other big events over the past year. It feels that we are at the point where people are comfortable mingling with each other again, even if, for the time being, it’s still behind masks.
Another thing that I found particularly special about this semester’s showcase was the awesome variety of talents it put center stage. Yes, I do love my dose of Talking Heads and Pixies, and other typical hipster-adjacent acts, but it’s important not to fall into those cliched indie trenches. After all, every musical recommendation I’ve gotten from an Oberlin student during my time here has been something I’ve never heard of. I know that’s, like, the point of recommendations, but you know what I mean; there are very few music neophytes here. However, that doesn’t make us pretentious—at least not all the time—we still know how to laugh at ourselves, and with one another. We still have the courage to look (not so) good on the dance floor.
In spite of that brilliantly placed reference, Tropical Chimps (Arctic Monkeys) were actually the last performers of the night. Kicking it off were their nice ‘n vengeful peers, Dykes Want Revenge. To me, She Wants Revenge hold up as a great post-punk revival band, definitely on the plane of my beloved Interpol and other gloomy darlings. I will admit, though, that they were probably introduced to me through the very controversial film 500 Days of Summer. Dykes Want Revenge, though, added a whole new layer of interest and finesse to the sound of the 2010s indie milieu. The music was not all doom; the vocalist tore down the barriers of monotone with heart and verve. Meanwhile, I found myself mouthing the words to “Tear You Apart,” just as I did on my walks home from school in eighth grade.
As alluded to earlier, the next set from Florid and the Obscene left me in an emotional mess. I attribute this to, at least in part, the band’s impressive ability to actually sound like Florence and the Machine—and I don’t mean that patronizingly. Rather, I’ve always considered Florence Welch to have one of the most stunning voices in rock, and “Obscene” gave them a good run for their money. The crowd could do nothing but sing along.
For the next act, I was a little bit afraid that this wouldn’t be the case. When I think of Mac Miller fans, our student body is not the first image that comes to mind. But oh, how delightfully was I proven wrong. Not only did ‘Sco capacity feel at its peak during Mike Miller’s set, but that was when the curly-haired dude in front of me was bouncing up and down with peak height. I was absolutely enthralled by the whole set, which was smooth, jazzy, and rejuvenating. What the rapper gives us with his produced sounds, Mike Miller gave us with sprawling instrumental jive.
The crowd showed out for Black Shabbos, too. Throughout the whole night, no one held back, but that was that glorious time when the pit opened up. It reminded me of Mannequin Pussy at the ‘Sco c. fall 2019, if only for a span of ten minutes. It also was a great relief to see that everyone was being cognizant of each other—or at least, trying to be. Indeed, while Coverband can lend itself to a certain mayhem, after Shabbos’ set WOBC took to reminding everyone to be mindful of those around them, and also took the time to hold up some lost phones that had been victims of the pit. That for sure made me chuckle.
Going into the latter half of the night was, for me, when things got interesting. I had never heard of Erykah Badu. The moniker “Moderna Fartin’” for Dolly Parton had me puzzled for days. I had no idea what to expect from either of these acts, other than that they would be very different from one another. But this difference was no calamity—it was a highlight of the night. Sehrea Badu, who regularly perform as the band Mnglw (pronounced “moonglow”), led everyone on a beautifully hypnotic experience of jazz and wonder. Moderna Fartin’ (I can’t type it without snickering) was their serendipitous antidote—all calculated pop and rust, that surely transported us all back to the time when it was reasonable to wear a cowboy hat to parties.
Are Big Time Rush and the Arctic Monkeys so different? The question that plagues a generation. Normally, I like to pontificate over these things—they give me a sense of stability in this maddened world. Not at coverband. One embraces the chaos; these bands blend into a sublime concoction of boy-band pop-rock. Perhaps, now is the fitting time for that earlier bad pun: we all found a place on the dance floor. Or something like that.
Although the actual experience of coverband was a blur to me, each act was so remarkably distinguished that they have all managed to linger with me in their own way. I applaud the WOBC board for selecting acts that cater to a variety of music, but also, more importantly, a variety of voices at Oberlin. Coverband certainly felt a bit less homogenous than in former years, even if none of my desert island bands played this time. But that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make a thousand times over. David Byrne is already doing David Byrne; who else can do Erykah Badu like that?