Had you been skeptical about the “UnderCover Presents: Nick Drake’s Pink Moon” event Sunday night at the Rickshaw Stop you wouldn't have been alone. It had the potential to be disastrous. Coordinating the sound alone must have posed a considerable challenge. How do you get 11 eclectic local bands — 50 performers each with specific sound needs — to play one song from one album without frazzling intervals between each performance and each set up? And then of course there's the album to consider, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. How can the bands perform the covers without butchering the album?
In the case of coordination and sound, it was a flawlessly organized UnderCover event, co-produced by Faultline Studios. Band set ups were seamless, the sound was first-rate, and the visuals by Joe Case that projected behind the stage were diverting. There were also pre-recorded interviews with band members shown before each performance, which made for an altogether different concert experience. With regards to Pink Moon, if you had hoped to hear covers that faithfully honored the songwriter’s final album, the event was likely a let down, but not a catastrophe.
Pink Moon is an odd choice for this kind of an event. For one, it's terse — with only 11 songs, it clocks in at 28 minutes, and so each band is on stage for only a moment. It’s essentially a bleak piece of songwriting as well, recorded with only guitar and vocals, aside from the light piano on the title track. As John Wood, who produced Pink Moon said in a 1979 radio interview, "[Drake] was very determined to make this very stark, bare record and he definitely wanted it to be him more than anything." However, the event's music director Darren Johnston saw this as an invitation. He in fact chose the album because of its sparseness and the endless ways to approach it. “It’s not even my favorite Nick Drake album,” he said in one of the pre-recorded interviews.
It’s worth noting that many of the bands did not seem to be Drake aficionados, nor did they pretend to be. A series of pre-recorded interviews showed that they were unaware that a “pink moon” or “bloody moon” represents imminent disaster in other cultures, and that Drake was possibly foretelling his antidepressant overdose, which happened two years after the album was released.
Needless to say then, the bands tweaked and reinvented the songs on Pink Moon. If the result wasn’t sensitive tributes to Nick Drake, it was still seasoned musicians putting on compelling performances. Music Director Darren Johnston’s own band, Brass Menažeri, started the night off with the title track, “Pink Moon” which was a rumpus of snorting tubas, trumpets, and French horns. It was followed by the Oakland pop band Kapowski who managed to churn out a memorable piano take on “Place to Be.” The Real Vocal Quartet turned some heads with their cover of “Road,” sticking to the song in the beginning, then veering into a blasting collage of strings before coming back up, rather reluctantly, for another verse.
The performance that best embodied Pink Moon was the saxophone player David Boyce’s rendition of — interestingly enough— the only instrumental on the album, a song called “Horn.” With an array of effect pedals, Boyce withdrew from with the original song, but managed to embody the whole album with it. He puffed away and evoked its desolation, adding layer upon layer of drifting, sometimes ear-splitting sounds that encapsulated something like panic and nausea.
In many ways, you wanted to hear these bands doing their own material and performing longer sets. It was a shame that we only got a taste of the Billie Holiday inspired voice of singer Kally Price, for instance, who was spell-binding in the very, very brief amount of time she was up on stage.
Brass Menažeri ("Pink Moon")
Kapowski! ("Place to Be")
Real Vocal String Quartet ("Road")
Kally Price ("Which Will")
David Boyce ("Horn")
Pocket Full of Rye ("Things Behind the Sun")
Broken Shadows Family Band ("Know")
Freddi Price ("Parasite")
Ramon and Jessica ("Free Ride")
Aaron Novik ("Harvest Breed")
Jazz Mafia ("From the Morning")
All photos by Jessica Trimmer