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Friday, October 4, 2013

The International Morphine Variations

I have a tendency to connect certain areas to events in my life, so whenever I'm in the Miracle Mile District I think of Morphine. This is due to the unforgettable show they played at the El Rey Theater on Wilshire Blvd.

Supporting their "Like Swimming" album (1995), it was one of their last L.A. performances before band leader Mark Sandman's untimely death. The show was a colossal feast of wild and raucous sounds, hitting every nerve in my body and reminding me why music changed my life forever.

A power trio consisting of an explosive drummer, a fiery baritone saxophonist who literally doubled on tenor sax a la Roland Kirk and a cool singer who looked more like Richard Hell than Hell himself and played a grungy slide bass. Morphine's eccentric musicianship perfectly suited a bizarre repertoire of dark but highly melodic blues songs.

Their sound had a simultaneously urban and rural style that I found uncanny, the slide bass dredging images of murky Southern swamps and the growly sax bursting out cinematic scenes of psychotic detectives shooting guns at brick-lined housing projects.

When I had my band Cockfight I tried to get my bassist to play with a slide in tribute to Mr. Sandman, but the resident jughead couldn't appreciate the concept and refused. Opting instead for a lousy chorus pedal - how Goth - I unplugged it and told him to expand his horizons.

Anyway, posted here for your entertainment are a few covers of Morphine songs from various bands. Whether you like the way they're covered or not doesn't matter; the point is that Mark Sandman wrote a lot of songs that people to this day love listening and playing, the mark of a truly great artist.

Night Shark are a Morphine tribute band from Amsterdam, Holland and play a pretty faithful version of "Thursday" complete with slide bass and growly bari sax. Good work.

Indie & The Jones do a damned wicked hard rock cover of "Honey White" with a wah-wah pedal guitar doing all the sax lines. The harmonies on the chorus sound surprisingly cool and add to the song. I think they added a good spin to the original. Very acid rock and audacious enough to be fun.

Then we have a Morphine cover band from Bulgaria (!) doing "Super Sex" and playing it with an almost wholesome Gerry & The Pacemakers luvvability. Dig those mad Bulgar boho chicks mouthing the lyrics to Super Sex. Weird! As weird as that scary Italian cover of Sonic Youth's "Starpower" that sounded just like Journey!

The last video on this blog comes from post-Morphine band Twinemen featuring Dana Colley and Billy Conway playing with bassist/singer Laurie Sargeant. "Spinner" is a great song and compliments Mark Sandman's oeuvre just fine. Long live the Sandman.

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