If you were to put Joey Cape (Lagwagon), Scott Shiflett (Face to Face), Dave Raun (Lagwagon), Jay Bentley (Bad Religion) and Spike Slawson (The Re-Volts and Uke-Hunt) into a jam room together, what would you expect them to come out with? If your answer is, “A scratchy, no-fucks-given cover band tackling everything from motown, show tunes and ‘80s pop to country gems and love songs with a ‘50s diner aesthetic,” you’re… Well okay, first of all, you’re incredibly specific, but somehow, you’re also correct. Me First And The Gimme Gimmes are unlike any other supergroup we’ve seen pop up in recent years. And come Download 2019, we’ll have a chance to see them bust out a full spate of kitschy pop tunes (á la deliciously vicious punk hooks) in the flesh. Ahead of their domination Down Under, we’re rounding off on our favourite of their off-kilter covers.
8. “End Of The Road” (Boys II Men)
Perhaps the most divisive Gimmes release is their 2003 offering Take A Break, which saw the lads tackle an all-star lineup of R&B classics with their signature crude, wall-rattling punk rock slick. Their take on the iconic Boyz II Men crooner “End Of The Road” actually dials the distortion down a notch, however, embracing the disco-ball suaveness of the original with a warbly synth lead and decidedly laidback drum beat – at least until that chorus kicks in and the two-stepping begins. It’s Slawson’s vocals that really make this track shine – you can almost hear him clench a fist and tear up with emotion when he rips through that first soul-caressing bridge. The sheer weight of his incandescent passion completely outshining the instrumental. It’s not a cut we can see brewing too many pits, but should they need a moment of respite – a chance to say, “Hey, we can be a serious band when we want to” – in their Download set, we’ll happily indulge in a heartfelt singalong.
7. “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor)
Again, Slawson takes this track to a whole new level of wonder with a performance that rivals the disco queen he’s emulating. Pulled from their latest LP – 2014’s Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! – the band cover a full gamut of their cumulative talents in the 2.5-minute cover, the rollicking drums and whistling gain undeniably massive even when they’re coupled with the epic bridge of Gloria Gaynor’s original. Impossibly impressive is how, even when his bandmates kick into full-on chaos mode (cop that absolute belter of a solo in the middle eight), Slawson’s zeal never wavers. He’s equally grandiose and off-chops, weaving dextrously around Shiflett’s venomous groove while maintaining the vocal strength of a goddamn legend. This is true proof that punk is the most versatile genre there is, and even when the band are taking 100 percent of the piss, Me First And The Gimme Gimmes are ridiculously talented.
6. “Uptown Girl” (Billy Joel)
By all logical definitions, this cover is a genuine monstrosity. Its production is sloppy, the vocals are mixed in such a way that they’re just barely scraping above the instrumental, and the drums are just that little bit too glassy to mesh with the crunchy, shredding guitars. But something about it just… Works. The loose, lowkey backing vocals clash with Slawson like they’re trying to punch on with him; we’re not entirely sure Mike knows what he’s doing, either, but he goes overboard with the juicy basslines on this choice cut from the Gimmes’ debut full-length, Have A Ball. On the original tune, Billy Joel delivers his performance with a blasé dorkiness – he knows its a soppy diner love song, but he embraces that wholeheartedly and belts the chorus with an ardour that made teen girls in the ‘80s swoon like nothing else. The Gimmes do the same here – albeit on a very different wavelength – cashing in on that ultra dorky hook with the kind of scratchy skate-punk liveliness that only the sum of their parts could do justice.
5. “All My Loving” (The Beatles)
Until now, we never thought a Beatles number could make us want to break out the PS1 for a game of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. In just shy of two minutes, the Gimmes take this 1963 pop ditty and crank up the amps for a dry, fist-to-face slathering of battering drums and numbing guitars. It’s hard to believe the original is as sweet as it – between Slawson’s breathless yells and the lead shredding from Shiflett (which we can only assume was nailed out with a stern look of “don’t fuck with me” on his face), the only setting this song makes us yearn for is the mosh. The one thing that’s keeping this belter from the top three is the ringing guitar line that bleeds over the first 20 seconds. Fuck that off, and you’ve got a bonafide punk classic on your hands – Beatles cover or not.
4. “Rocket Man” (Elton John)
The only track on this list to eclipse three minutes, this captivating cover takes full advantage of every second it pummels on for. Like most of the bops on Have A Ball, the Gimmes seek to appropriate the rich and grandiose soundscape of the Elton John original rather than revolutionise it; though with the rough, nostalgic guitars and Slawson once more pushing his vocal delivery into the realm of legitimate poignancy, the simple invigoration of punkishness serves “Rocket Man” exceptionally well. Towards the end, the band briefly dip into the original cut’s slow-burning tempo; not only does this add another dimension to the already masterfully layered punk jam at hand, but dragging us back to what we know “Rocket Man” to sound like (in whatever small way) shows a juxtaposition that makes the Gimmes’ version shine even more. This is another one of the tracks where Mike shows his strengths as a bassist, too.
3. “Never Tear Us Apart” (INXS)
The Living End frontman Chris Cheney is a common fill-in for Shiflett. There’s no word on whether he’ll be making a surprise appearance at Download ’19, but if there was any one track he would absolutely fucking slay behind the mic (hint, hint), it’s this one. Kicking off their severely underrated Go Down Under EP (which was an Oz-exclusive release timed for their 2011 tour), the Gimmes’ take on an INXS gem is a fierce and fiery cataclysm of buoyant shredding, layered vocals and bass so powerful it could be used as a natural pesticide in Australia’s snake season. The smoky sharpness of Michael Hutchence’s original vocal isn’t lost, either, with Slawson adapting the gruff bluesiness of the Aussie icon and giving it the loose, loving punk rock kick you’d expect. There’s a bit of an ‘uncanny valley’ effect with the marriage of Slawson’s vocal and the galloping guitars – the former’s twang is in line with the more lowkey original track, while the latter punch on with a loud and livid punk energy. It’s a positive effect, though – you could catch us two-stepping in one verse, and crooning along heart-on-hand for the next.
2. “My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion)
Channeling early Against Me! with a striking folk-punk slant and some bright acoustic jangling, the Gimmes strike an unexpected, yet beautifully homely chord with their spin on the ostensible Titanic theme song. The spirit of Celine Dion’s forceful and resonant tenor shines in Slawson’s, a cowboy twang washed over his otherwise lucid howls. It might be that it’s so left-of-field that “My Heart Will Go On” reigns as a Gimmes go-to, but it’s in that – the percussive claps, the sunny guitars and the slightly off-key harmonica wailing in the background, a combination of sounds so unanticipated its a beggars a double-take – that makes the band’s niche so enticing to begin with. Because for all intents and purposes, it’d be easy to punch in the distortion pedals and do a breakneck-paced redux of the heartfelt ballad; that they’ve pulled a 180 on their own structure for the cover makes it all the more interesting. And even setting aside all the gimmicks, this is just a really, really fucking good song.
1. “On The Road Again” (Willie Nelson)
If there’s one thing we’ve learned by trawling through the Gimmes’ discography, it’s to expect the unexpected – like their best cover having its origins as a country romp by Willie fucking Nelson. Driven by the coarse, pseudo-melodic hook of the Misfits’ “Astro Zombies”, Slawson and co. twist the barnyard banger into an all-out frenzy of pit-ready guitars and two-step drums that outright beg you lose your marbles to them. The band let up for not a millisecond in the two-minute scorcher, “yeah”s and “yo”s aplenty as all five of them pour a whole record’s worth of energy into it – somehow managing not to hit a single bung note in the process. What makes the track stand out amongst six full-length records of cover songs (not to mention all the EPs and compilations) is how well the Gimmes translate the original into their own signature punk style – especially impressive given how discrepant that is from Nelson’s version. If they play this at Download, you can bet your life savings there’ll be chaos.
Punk covers of non-punk songs your thing? You better get your ticket for Download Festival 2019 then.
Check out all the ticket options available here...GA, RIP or if you can channel god like strength...opt in for the Double Down(load) and hit both the Sydney and Melbourne shows.
Written by Matt Doria - A writer who’s all about the three P’s: pizza, punk, and p…dogs.