At the end of a live show, after the stage goes black, house lights are dim, and the audience is patiently awaiting the encore, the performer can forgo rules of a concert and abandon the setlist unspokenly owed to fans, making it the perfect time to unleash a cover song.
Whether the band is paying homage to their predecessors, showing appreciation for an artist of another genre, or finding an excuse to sing a favorite track to their hearts’ content, cover songs give us added insight into their musical taste and inspiration. And because it may not happen again, the moment is further cherished by the audience. Sometimes, though, a cover evolves into a tradition for bands’ live shows, and we get to know an alternate version just as well as we know the original.
From pop stars echoing rock ballads, to rock icons rehashing Britney Spears, these are some of the most notable cover songs played during encores to date.
Pearl Jam: Neil Young’s “Rockin in the Free World”
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder befriended Neil Young in the ‘90s, and counts him among his major musical influences. Young featured members of Pearl Jam on his 22nd studio album Mirror Ball (1995), and Pearl Jam also acted as his backing band during their double-bill European tour. In 1992, Pearl Jam covered “Rockin’ in the Free World,” from Young’s 1989 album Freedom, and has been upholding the tradition during live performances ever since.
Watch them cover the track in Milan, Italy, in 2000:
Smashing Pumpkins: Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me”
As part of their comeback tour in 2008, Smashing Pumpkins played an hour-long encore at Festival Hall in Melbourne, Australia. To the chagrin — or more accurately, profound disappointment — of long-time fans, Billy Corgan and his band played a few covers during the encore, in lieu of their beloved hits, including a near-unrecognizable version of Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me,” from her 2007 album Blackout. We admit, it’s not our favorites of hers, but we’re intrigued by Smashing Pumpkins’ song choice. Also the name of her ongoing residency in Las Vegas, Corgan perhaps relates to the song’s commentary on how invasive the media can be. The band continued to include the track as part of their setlist on tour that year. They also played Pink Floyd’s, “Set Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth” for an encore.
See footage from their 2008 performance in Costa Rica:
James Blake: Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”
Breakout London-based producer James Blake is now revered for his songwriting, and has worked with countless notable talent, including Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and Brian Eno for his album Overgrown which earned a Mercury Prize, and the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song for the track “Retrograde.” Blake even has writing credits on Beyoncé’s much talked-about visual album Lemonade which came out this year. But in 2011, he was just making his way to the states for his live US debut. His first-ever performance in America was at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York, where he played Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” during the encore. The song also appears on his six-track EP Enough Thunder for which he collaborated with Bon Iver.
Here, Blake performs the song live in Seoul, Korea:
✝✝✝ (Crosses): Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses”
As far as one-hit wonders go, Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” is one of the most intriguing. Escaping the familiar trap of other memorable hits from the 1980s, like Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” Haircut 100’s “Love Plus One,” or even Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time,” “Goodbye Horses” is able to transcend the time period it came from. Q Lazzarus, born Quiana Diana Lazzarus, had a short but fascinating rags-to-riches story, in which she escaped an abusive marriage, became a taxi driver in New York City, and went to Hollywood after she met director Jonathan Demme. Demme was a passenger in her cab, and driving through a blizzard she played her song, “Goodbye Horses,” which captivated him. Written by William Garvey, “Goodbye Horses” is best known for being featured in Demme’s film Silence of the Lambs as the song Buffalo Bill dances to. Aside from metal band Crosses, (the side project of Deftones’ frontman Chino Moreno) who covered the song during their encore at the Roxy in LA in 2014, it’s also been covered by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe and Jon Hopkins, and others. Thorpe told Pop Matters “the track itself is really alluring, very enigmatic and quite unusual in subject and approach.”
See Chino Moreno perform “Goodbye Horses” with his band Crosses in 2014 in Los Angeles:
Dinosaur Jr.: The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”
Dinosaur Jr.’s version of “Just Like Heaven” is one cover we admit we like just much as the original. An undeniable fan favorite from their third studio album, 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me, the song has become part of the band’s live repertoire, often employed during the encore. The late ‘80s/early ‘90s grunge rock exemplars put an ever-satisfying lo-fi spin on the bright, new wave track, with J. Mascis’s signature slop-punk vocals and a much grittier opening lick. The song was originally recorded for a compilation project, which the band pulled out of once they realized how much they loved the final result, and decided to keep it for their own record.
Here’s a clip of the song from their 2007 tour documentary: “Live in the Middle East”