In them, the true colors of your favorite artists, your friends, the cool kids you see at shows but dare not speak to — they come out in full-hearted tributes to the Ramones, the Exploding Hearts, Fleetwood Mac or Blink-182. For the last 10 years+, the D.C. punk scene has put on a Halloween covers benefit show, with proceeds going to charity, usually Casa Ruby, which provides social services to the city’s LGBTQ community.
I’ve never really been in a band (at least since high school), but can play guitar and sing pretty okay. So once a year, I gather the same 4 or 5 friends, and we play one show on Halloween. First it was Jimmy Eat World (aka Jimmy Eat Brains); I absolutely loved singing “Crush,” even if it was well out of my vocal range. With the Smashing Pumpkins, we stayed pretty true to the material, but punked up “1979.” Gin Blossoms was just pure candy — you always forget you know four of their alt-rock radio hits really well, and the audience that night sang to every dang song.
In 2018, that same group of friends went full poptism. We called ourselves Gnarly Rae Jepsen, Queen of Halloween, obviously. Katie Park from Bad Moves was our Carly. Brandon Korch, who’s been in a ton of D.C. bands including Monument and Polyon, played drums. Matt Cohen on bass. I split guitar duties with my dear friend Marissa Lorusso. And then the rest of Bad Moves were the backup singers, which is just ridiculous and perfect when I think back on it.
We didn’t have a keyboard player, so Marissa and I had to reimagine songs like “Cut to the Feeling” and “I Really Like You” for two guitars; my instinct was to punk everything up, while she spaced out these beautiful, spectral melodies. For “Run Away With Me,” we did have our friend Amanda play that euphoric saxophone hook, and the entire audience turned into one mass gang vocal.
To this day, folks still call that night the Gnarly Rae Jepsen show, despite the fact that other cover bands were on the bill, including the absolutely inspired Siegfried and Roy Division. When my daughter was born, we played two pieces of music for her on repeat: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves and a live bootleg of this set. She got to hear her daddy play the guitar.
So that’s my first episode of the Viking’s Choice podcast: the one and only Gnarly Rae Jepsen show, in its entirety, stage banter, hastily tuned guitars, overblown amps and all. I really miss playing music with my friends and hope I can do it again soon.
32 tracks. Baltimore’s Pinkshift has a Big Paramore Energy. Mindforce’s metallic hardcore has me ripping up the pit of my office/kid’s nursery. Chinese screamo band Bennu is a Heron interpolates Daft Punk’s “Something About Us.” G.I.S.M.’s debut album is on streaming services for the first time; let’s get gross. LOONA’s strutting, sassy-as-hell K-pop. Ladies and gentlemen, Autechre is floating in space and firing lasers. Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Adrian Younge have basically spent 2020 making records with their inspirations/sample sources — the latest is with Azymuth, the Brazilian fusion masters. Okay, there’s a lot of screamo/post-hardcore this week, from the lush (Respire, Record Setter, Touché Amoré ) to the chaotic (Static Dress, Portrayal of Guilt). I can’t quit Liturgy, no matter how baffling it continues to be. Throwbacks to songs by previous Halloween cover bands Jimmy Eat World, Smashing Pumpkins, Gin Blossoms and, of course, Carly Rae Jepsen.