Petra Haden, Museum of Fine Arts, October 25, 2006
Petra Haden is making a career out of covering the un-coverable. When she toured as a Decemberist last year, she stopped the show with Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” — a song that hardly anyone, including the stage-shy Bush, has ever done live. She nailed both the high-register jumps and the haunted mood, and even leader Colin Meloy looked dazzled.
Haden (center) sings The Who Sells Out
Formerly of the overlooked That Dog and lately an auxiliary Foo Fighter, Haden has become an in-demand session singer; but it’s an oddball project that’s gotten her the most attention. A few years ago her friend Mike Watt gave her a tape of the Who’s 1966 album The Who Sell Out and suggested she sing over it; she eventually replaced all the Who’s parts with her own vocals and released the result. Last night she brought a six-woman chorus dubbed the Sellouts into the MFA for a strictly a cappella show, which drew a surprisingly low turnout of about 75.
Speaking between songs in a nasal Valley Girl voice, Haden apologized for the night’s one screw-up by noting, “I’m sorry, but this is really intricate stuff.” And it was: the night’s two original songs — both wordless pieces from her prior solo album, Imaginaryland (Win) — had many hypnotic layers of shifting parts. Their take on a Bach prelude was likewise a real feat of invention, the sort of thing the Swingle Singers made a career out of in the ’60s. And the set-closing “God Only Knows” had to be the first cover version as gorgeous as the Beach Boys’ original.
Only the first side of the Who’s album was performed, complete with the links and jingles, often treated like they were classic pieces to be precisely recreated — perhaps it takes a classical contralto to get that robot voice on the “Wonderful Radio London” jingle. But Haden delivered the emotion when needed, treating “Our Love Was, Is,” rightfully, a grand outpouring. It was all fun, creative, and true to the spirit of the Who, which is more than I’ll ever say about the Who’s new album.
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