Ten Best Live Cover Songs of 2014

The Black Keys
The Black Keys — Photo by Monique Hernandez

Having been fortunate enough to see around 100 concerts in 2014, not to mention a good number of music festivals, I had the opportunity to see some musicians pull out some pretty bad ass covers during their live sets. After much deliberation, I’ve broken down my Top 10 for the year, which was no easy feat.

Feature by Mark E. Ortega


1. The Black Keys – “A Girl Like You” (Edwyn Collins cover, The Forum, Nov. 6)

Memorable for its inclusion on the awesome Empire Records soundtrack, this classic ’90s jam fit The Black Keys’ sound perfectly. Though it is a cover they do quite often, it was quite a treat to see them play it in front of a sold-out crowd at the renovated Forum in Inglewood. The Black Keys’ demographic is wide-reaching and it was pretty awesome to see many thirty-fortysomethings (and beyond) belt out all the words along with lead man Dan Auerbach. Here’s their performance of the classic on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.


2. Portugal. The Man with GROUPLOVE – “Baba O’Riley” (The Who, The Greek Theatre, Aug. 15)

For the encore of their awesome co-headlining gig at the beautiful Greek Theatre, GROUPLOVE were joined on stage by Portugal. The Man to deliver an awesome rendition of The Who’s classic “Baba O’Riley”. On this night, GROUPLOVE also did their awesome cover of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” and Portugal. The Man did a medley that featured the Day Man song from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia along with Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, but this all-time great rock song reigned supreme. People lost their minds as you can see in this quality video.


3. John Mayer – “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan, Made in America Festival, Aug. 31)

According to the setlist-tracking site setlist.fm, this was the first time Mayer ever played his interpretation of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, and my, how it would have done Dylan and Jimi Hendrix proud. Mayer has subsequently played this a couple of times since, but finding out this was the first time he played it live was pretty mind-blowing given his mastery of it. Check it out for yourself below.


4. Asgeir – “Heart-Shaped Box” (Nirvana, Life is Beautiful Festival, Oct. 25)

Oftentimes, the best covers are when somebody takes a song from one genre and gives it their own interpretation within the confines of the type of music they play. I knew very little about emerging Icelandic singer-songwriter Asgeir before checking out his set at Las Vegas’ Life is Beautiful Festival, but immediately this cover song stood out to me (along with some pretty badass songs of his own — if you like fellow Iceland band Sigur Ros, I recommend checking him out). Asgeir took a song that’s pretty dark and made it sound quite beautiful. Here’s a studio recording of the cover.


5. GROUPLOVE – “Drunk in Love” (Beyonce, Coachella weekend two, Apr. 18)

Yeah, GROUPLOVE is quite adept at covering other artist’s songs. Like the above-mentioned Asgeir cover, GROUPLOVE takes a song from a completely different genre and spins it into something quite differently. What I remember most about this cover is how it really felt like it kicked off Coachella weekend two, being that it came in the early part of the first day. People were REALLY feeling this, singing along with vocalists Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper. Particularly when Hooper rapped the part about “ride it with my surfboard, surfboard, surfboard…” See for yourself in this awesome crowd-captured video of the performance.


6. Damien Rice – “Hallelujah” (Warren Zevon, but really Jeff Buckley, Cathedral Sanctuary, Oct. 9)

During Rice’s incredible life-altering performance at the Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian, one fan yelled out “Take us to church!” in between songs. Rice obliged, asked the staff to turn down the lights, and he played a few verses and choruses from this classic. Everybody under the sun has tried covering this song, but few have ever come close to Jeff Buckley’s interpretation. Rice comes close, the only thing keeping this from being higher up the list is that he didn’t play the entire song. Check out this awesome video of Rice playing it with fellow Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard.


7. Panic! At the Disco – “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen, The Greek Theatre, Aug. 26)

I was blown away by how awesome of performers these guys are. I went mostly for nostalgia’s sake, but I had no idea they were this fun live. They did Queen’s sing-along tune justice, Brendon Urie did a damn fine Freddie Mercury and the cover was so well-received that the band uploaded it to their YouTube page, where it has eclipsed two million views. See for yourself below!


8. Imagine Dragons – “Song 2” (Blur, Made in America Festival, Aug. 30)

Okay, “Song 2” by Blur immediately takes me back to being a kid. My little sister only knew it as “the wa-hoo song” for years. Imagine Dragons lead vocalist Dan Reynolds told the crowd it was one of his favorite songs and he expected them to sing it with him. Reynolds got so into it that he crowd-surfed during the final chorus. The whole crowd was singing “weee-hooo” and it brought a nice end to the first day of the inaugural Los Angeles version of Made in America. Check it out below.


9. BANKS – “Are You That Somebody?” (Aaliyah, Coachella weekend 2, Apr. 19)

It’s been quite a huge year for Los Angeles’ own BANKS. At this year’s Coachella, she blew fans away with her powerful voice and sultry lyrics. Her version of Aaliyah’s classic hit turned up the heat even more than the 100+ degree temperatures of Indio at Coachella. Her bare-bones take was well-received by a crowd that very well could have grown up idolizing Aaliyah. Check out her performance from the first weekend of Coachella..


10. Kate Nash – “Rebel Girl” (Bikini Kill, The Smell, Sept. 14)

It was hard to pick what song would make the cut at #10, but not the artist. Kate Nash had two kick-ass covers that I saw during the three performances of her that I was lucky enough to attend. At The Roxy earlier in the year, she did an amazing cover of Meredith Brooks’ ’90s one-hit-wonder “Bitch”. But that was slightly surpassed by her cover at September’s Girl Gang show in September, organized by Nash and friends to support feminism. And what song could be considered the feminist anthem more than “Rebel Girl”? Nash crowd-surfed the overwhelmingly female crowd during her singing of this song and it was quite a sight to see. It also fully put into context just how far she’d come from her teenage pop days to being a full-on punk princess. Unfortunately, there’s no video, but here’s video of her covering “Bitch”.


Honorable Mentions: 

Kate Nash – “Bitch” (Meredith Brooks, The Roxy, Apr. 14); Joseph Arthur“Walk on the Wild Side” (Lou Reed, Troubadour, June 10); HAIM“XO” (Beyonce, The Wiltern, Aug. 8); Fitz & The Tantrums“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (The Eurythmics, Life is Beautiful, Oct. 25); Lykke Li“I’m On Fire” (Bruce Springsteen, Hollywood Palladium, Sept. 23); Better Than Ezra“Tiny Dancer” (Elton John, House of Blues Sunset, Sept. 20); Ingrid Michaelson“All of Me” (John Legend, The Wiltern, May 7); Justin Timberlake – “Human Nature” (Michael Jackson, The Forum, Nov. 24)


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