Live music galleries: Great Lake Swimmers [2013]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts page.)

Great Lake Swimmers performing live at Ottawa Dragonboat festival 2013

Artist: Great Lake Swimmers
When: June 22nd, 2013
Where: Ottawa Dragonboat Festival, Mooneys Bay Park, Ottawa
Context: Back on March 10th of this year, Dan Mangan was announced as headliner for the first night of Ottawa Dragonboat festival, which would have been tonight, and organizers promised to announce more acts as the festival drew closer. A few short days later, the country started shutting down to combat the spread of COVID-19 and the festival, along with all the others, had to be cancelled. The Ottawa Dragonboat festival is actually more about dragonboat racing and raising money for charity but they just so happen to also have a great free concert series every year that features amazing Canadian artists. I’ve been going to catch some of these free shows ever since 2013 and I’ve come to see the festival as the opening of summer. The very first band I ever saw at Ottawa Dragonboat festival was Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers. I’d been following the indie folk act headed by Tony Dekker for a number of years already and couldn’t help but jump at the chance to see them for free. The night of the concert was quite rainy so the organizers decided to move the band’s set from the main stage to a covered stage under a tent on the beach. It was perfect for me because it gave the show a more intimate feel. I would definitely jump at the chance to see them again. And I am definitely looking forward to future Dragonboat festivals.
Point of reference song: New wild everywhere

Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers
Erik Arnesen of Great Lake Swimmers
Miranda Mulholland and Bret Higgins of Great Lake Swimmers
Bret Higgins, Greg Millson, and Tony Dekker
Erik Arnesen on the banjo
Tony Dekker singing it

100 best covers: #70 Great Lake Swimmers “What was going through my head”

<< #71    |    #69 >>

Five years ago, Nettwork Records celebrated their 30th anniversary as a going concern. As a part of the festivities, they released a compilation album called “Cover to cover”, which featured current label artists covering songs from its storied past. If you look at the list of songs by artists as varied as Skinny Puppy, Coldplay, Passenger, and Sarah McLachlan, you can almost trace the label’s history from indie upstart on the west coast of Canada to apparent music savants picking up on the early days of the Canadian alternative rock scene, striking gold there, and then finding itself as an international mover and shaker. And looking at the list of the artists covering these tracks, you can see the label looking back towards those early roots and mining the best of current new Canadian indie.

Our cover song today is the penultimate track on this compilation and is a true example of CanCon brilliance. The original version of “What was going through my head” was the third single released off “Now and again”, The Grapes of Wrath’s* biggest album, a huge hit here on the Canadian radio airwaves. They were so big here I can’t imagine anyone not knowing this track but my understanding is that they are one of those CanCon bands that didn’t really travel well internationally. They were led by the songwriting duo of Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane and were almost as well known for their long, thick and wavy hair as they were for their vocal harmonies. The original track is heavy on the acoustic strumming, all jangle pop like and easy on the ears, and the synths here were a new addition to the band’s straightforward drums and bassline. Listening to the track for what must be the millionth time, it’s easy for me to see why Hooper and Kane always reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel with their plaintiff and haunting deliveries.

Great Lake Swimmers are a Toronto-based indie folk outfit led by Tony Dekker, who definitely sound more Iron and Wine than Lumineers. I’ve been listening to them for a long time and have always dug the low key and quiet vibe of their tunes. This cover actually first appeared as a bonus track on the deluxe version of their 2012 album, “New wild everywhere”, their most upbeat and commercially successful release to date. Their take on “What was going through my head” is faithful to the original, dutifully, doing the classic proud. It is slower in pace, as one might expect, and a shade longer than the original’s sub-three minutes. Dekker’s soft touch on vocals gets his harmonies care of Miranda Mulholland, who also adds a lovely touch on the violin to replace the keyboards of the original. And yeah, this is the Great Lake Swimmers so we’ve also got banjo and upright bass in the mix. It’s oh so organic.

And if the original wasn’t such a big part of my teen years, I could almost say this cover is better than the original. But it was, so I can’t.

Cover:

The original:

* Incidentally, The Grapes of Wrath’s first ever release, a self-titled EP, was also Nettwerk Records’ debut release.

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.