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Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ gets royal treatment

Fely Tchaco performing

Fely Tchaco performing “I Know What I Know”

By Steve Roby//

Paul Simon’s Graceland: Presented by UnderCover & Faultline Studios //
Jewish Community Center — San Francisco
Friday April 11th, 2014 //

In the not too distant past, faithful music fans purchased full-length record albums. Some contained obvious filler, but others stood out with coherent themes and not just individual tunes. You’d wear the grooves out, playing them from the beginning to the end. The hits from these LPs are played on classic rock radio stations, but the majority of the material remain deep tracks tucked away in our memories.

Some bands like The Who have performed live recreations for their “rock operas” Tommy and Quadrophenia, but Lyz Luke, founder of UnderCover Presents, discovered a unique chemistry occurred when multiple bands came together to perform their own interpretations. She’s recently revived this full-album listening experience in a concert setting to consistently great reviews.

“The project started about three-and-a-half years ago,” explains Luke, “when musicians Charith Premawardhana (Founder of Classical Revolution), Adam Theis (Jazz Mafia), and I had a very late night conversation about assembling a live tribute for the 1967 classic LP, The Velvet Underground & Nico. We wound up calling a roster of musicians the next day, and ended up with one band per song.” The project evolved and caught the attention of Third Eye Blind frontman (and S.F. resident) Stephan Jenkins, and singer/guitarist Liz Phair, who along with 40 local musicians preformed the entire record to a sold-out crowd at the Coda Jazz Supper Club on Mission Street back in 2010.

“The audience got to see a dozen different bands in one night, and loved it,” recalled Luke. “The connections for the musicians lasted long after this initial show, and they started recording and guesting on each other’s albums and concerts. I don’t think this would’ve happened if this performance hadn’t taken place.”

Although Luke grew up in Los Angeles, she’s now a Bay Area local, and appreciates the strength of the artistic community. She’s been involved with other large-scale events like the AIDS Walk and The San Francisco Marathon. In 2010, she co-founded UnderCover Presents, which to date has produced 9 showcases as part of their album series. The diversity of recordings covered ranges from Joni Mitchell’s Blue, a record that explored intimate relationships, to Black Sabbath’s bone-crunching Paranoid, considered by some as the best heavy metal album of all time.

Back in January, UnderCover presented Sly & The Family Stone’s Stand! at The Independent. It was coordinated by Music Director Rob Shelton, and even had some help from former Family Stone band members. As Luke fondly remembers, “We got drummer Greg Errico, guitarist Freddie Stone, and Rustee Allen who replaced bassist Larry Graham. We also tried to get (trumpeter) Cynthia (Robinson) and (saxophonist) Jerry Martini, but it didn’t work out in time. There will be an encore show for Stand! next January [2015] at Oakland’s Fox Theater.”

Diana Gameros performing

Diana Gameros performing “Gumboots”

Luke’s latest presentation takes on Paul Simon’s classic Graceland, which features an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. Simon’s inspiration for the album came when he listened to a cassette called Gumboots – Accordion Jive Hits Number 1, by the South African band, The Boyoyo Boys. Graceland won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, while the title song won the 1988 Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

On April 11th, UnderCover debuted their Graceland tribute to a sold-out crowd at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center. It featured 109 musicians under the direction of the very talented Rob Shelton. DJ Dizzy Victrola spun appropriate music between sets, and Elia Vargas provided amazing backdrop visuals.

Setlist
1. “The Boy in the Bubble” – Fanfare Zambaleta (Balkan Brass Band)
2. “Graceland” – John Vanderslice (Indie Rock)
3. “I Know What I Know” – Fely Tchaco – World Music Awards Winner (West African/World Beat/Cote d’Ivoire)
4. “Gumboots” – Diana Gameros (Indie/Latin/Pop/Folk)
5. “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” – DRMS (Noir Pop)
6. “You Can Call Me Al” – Bill Baird (Experimental Pop)

Intermission
7. “Homeless” – Pacific Boychoir,Grammy Awards Winner – (Pop-Influenced Classical Choral)
8. “Under African Skies” – Afrofunk Experience (Afrofunk)
9. “Crazy Love, Vol. II” – Guy Fox (Indie Rock)
10. “That Was Your Mother” – Trio Zincalo (Tangos/Choros/Gypsy)
11. “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints” – Midtown Social (California Soul)

After Graceland, Luke plans to expand UnderCover’s horizons. “We’ve found ourselves getting stuck in the 1970s, which is a great time in music, but we definitely don’t want to be known as the classic rock tribute show. In fact we’re working with a new music director, and plan to do a Bob Marley album next. After that, maybe a hip-hop album. We’ve also been in talks with the folks who organize the Stern Grove Festival about doing an outdoor performance that features a Bay Area band’s album. The Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival are some suggestions that have come up so far.”

UnderCover Presents – Paul Simon’s Graceland
Sunday, April 20, 2014, 8:00 pm (doors open at 7:00 pm)
Freight & Salvage
2020 Addison Street / Berkeley, CA
(510) 644-2020 // info@freightandsalvage.org

If you’ve missed any of the previous shows, Undercover has recorded studio versions with the musicians that performed them live. To hear a sample, or to purchase CDs, check out their online store.

Steve Roby is a music journalist/photographer whose work has appeared in Billboard, Rolling Stone and Guitar World. E-Mail: steve@steveroby.com.

Afrofunk Experience performing

Afrofunk Experience performing “Under African Skies”

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