All covers eve: Getting them just right

Sierra at
Dürty Nelly's
Saturday, October 30

To me, the country-rock band Sierra seemed like a strange choice for Dürty Nelly's Halloween show, but what do I know? The turnout for the show was better than I've ever seen at the bar, and it was pretty plain to see that almost all the souls there had come to watch the band perform.

Something in the high percentages of mullets and old baseball caps, audience participation and eyes turned toward the stage suggested to me that this was so– and little wonder. The band was phenomenal, their cover-centric set revealing the power possible when a band takes someone else's material and makes it their own.

Composed of two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer (3/4 mulleted), Sierra began their set with a raucous country-rock number– but it was their second song, Dire Straits' "So Far Away" that really got the audience into their good-time vibe and off such topics as woodworking (fascinating to overhear, however).

From the song's first guitar intro, ears perked up, my companion slapped my wrist and whispered she actually knew this song, and things grooved on from there. In its instrumental perfection, the only difference between this version and the original was lead guitarist Pete Fekas' different vocal tone, lacking the beat-dog feel of Mark Knopfler's original recording.

Brooks & Dunn's "Feels Good, Don't It?" was next (fun fact: the duo was considered at the top of the '90s country line-dancing movement), sung by guitarist Keith Bradley in a strong flexible voice. Two staccato chords and workman-like led the song on its up-tempo path, until the injection of a pristine guitar solo from Fekas (gotta love those triplets).

Soon enough, though, the first echoing note of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" was sounded, and with Bradley taking lead vocal duties again, everyone got a little bit closer to their table-mates. As he unfailingly hit the high I's of the "And I wanna fall in love," Bradley's occasional vibrato and Fekas' backup vocal lines and harmonies did justice to the original while being different enough to keep things interesting.

Sawyer Brown's "Some Girls Do," John Cougar Mellencamp's "Check It Out" (on its completion, prompting a derisive "John Cougar ain't sh*t" from the bar), and various other country-informed hits roared past me, but what really struck home was the tone of the group's interlocking guitars– their telecaster and strat combo, sounding pure as freshly fallen snow, was something to hear. It didn't hurt that both Fekas and Bradley are exemplary guitarists and their back-and-forth work was over the top.

There were no costumes in sight, and the spooky vibe was barely discernible, but Sierra made missing out on pagan fun all right for the night.

Photo by Máire Corcoran