It’s that time of the year once again when the Great Pumpkin flies high in the harvest sky, and all the witches of Echo Park and the ghouls of Frogtown come out to play—music, that is.
Grab your jack ‘o lantern and tune in to one of the best concerts of the year: Halloween Covers Night, curated by Otik Record’s Sean Johnson.
This is the show where your favorite L.A. bands put on their collective Halloween costumes and—boo!—become another band entirely, if only for just a night.
The 2021 edition of Halloween Covers Night
streams streamed over on the Museum of Home Video‘s Twitch channel.
Performers include: Joel Jerome, The Pretty Flowers, Fime, Goodnight Texas, Sara Radle, Beach Day, Boogie Mamas, Aaron Kyle, The 1981, the breakups, Liz Pappademas, Ben Jaffe, Clinton Patterson, Ashley Adler and Tips for Teens—a spinoff from Covers Night mainstays, The Monolators, also featuring Pauline Lay from Pehrspace and yours truly. Trick or treat!
The show benefits one of the most crucial charities in Los Angeles, the Midnight Mission.
Because of Covid concerns, this will be the second “stay at home” Halloween Covers Night, so there’s no excuse not to tune in. I almost think the show is better this way—no need to schedule around the kids’ trick or treating. Just put on the broadcast at your Halloween party and boogie yourself into an early grave!
Sean Johnson, who has played in the band E>K>U>K among many others, has been hosting Halloween-themed shows since 2002, though the first “official” Halloween Covers Night (by name and execution) happened in 2009 at The Echo. What was the inspiration?
“Halloween is my favorite holiday and I wanted to integrate that Halloween feeling I get into the music scene,” recalls Johnson. “I thought that maybe if bands could, for one night, be someone else, it would make that night memorable for everyone. Playing the same venue, the same-ish set, the same line-ups can get monotonous, so this was a break from that.”
From the start, Johnson’s concept has been a huge success. Over the years dozens of bands have participated, covering every kind of music from Abba to T. Rex.
One of Halloween Cover Night’s most recurring and most enthusiastic musical participants have been The Monolators’ Mary and Eli Chartkoff. The Monolators are a garage-rocking (literally—the band practices in their Eagle Rock garage) L.A. institution with deep roots in a number of scenes around Los Angeles, including as one of the most booked bands on Sean Carnage Monday Nights.
The Monolators got their start in 2002 just as Sean Johnson got the cover night ball rolling, and many of Mary and Eli’s spinoff groups have participated—making them perhaps the most covering band.
“We did our first Covers Night as The ABBAlators (covering ABBA, naturally) in 2009, and we kept doing it every year after that,” says Eli. “It hasn’t been Monolators every year—we played other years with our other bands (Cobra Lilies, Madame Headdress, Dawn of Sequins) as well as one-off bands with our friends and family. For the 2021 event, we are performing as Tips For Teens.” Perhaps you can guess from the band name what group the Monolators will be tributing?
Both Halloween Covers Night originator Sean Johnson and Eli Chartkoff (and the all-star Monolator family band) were kind enough to fill in the gory details about the event—one that is the best night of the year for many L.A. rockers and fans. Check it out:
Hey, Sean. Let’s go way back to the first Covers Night. Do you remember who played—and as what groups?
Sean Johnson: In 2009 at The Echo, we had Monolators do Abba, with my band at the time, the Voyeurs, as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Walking Sleep as Fleetwood Mac and Karabal Nightlife as T.Rex. It’s been consistent ever since. Well I may have missed a year, but I can’t remember. I do recall one year that I couldn’t host. The Monolators and Polartropica put it on and used the name to keep the blood flowing, which was super amazing!
Did you realize after the first covers show that this would be a yearly tradition?
Sean: I always knew I’d want to do Halloween shows since I began performing live. In 2002, the first one I co-hosted with another friend was at Sacred Grounds in San Pedro. It wasn’t so much of a full cover night, but more that the bands dressed up uniformly. For my bands, I always loved the group costume, so that first year my band From was dressed as characters from Mortal Kombat—and we even arranged a version of the theme song as the opener. Really dumb stuff! Others that come to mind are the Good, The Bad and The Ugly and the A-Team, etc.
Do the bands pick who they cover or do you?
Sean: The bands always pick what they want to do. I only ask that they dress the part to make it more unique and of course if there’s a theme, stick with it.
Is there always a theme?
Sean: There wasn’t always a theme, but after a few years, I thought it’d be fun to change it up and I recall the first major theme was the show we did in 2014 where I had bands play only albums from 1994. We had Nirvana Unplugged, Weezer Blue, Jawbreaker 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. You get the idea. I went back to full on theme last year with the “Stay At Home Edition.”
How many bands usually play?
Sean: Depending on the sets, it would go from 4-6 bands. I think I may have had seven one year, but they were all short sets. It’s a lot of herding though. I do love shorter sets and more variety as a personal preference overall.
What have been some of the best band/cover band pairings over the years? What have been the most memorable performances?
Sean: That’s a loaded question! I think the Monolators (or whatever configuration Eli and Mary choose) tend to be some of the most memorable for me. They never stick to the script so I never have any idea what to expect, except that I’ll be smiling the whole time. On the other side of the spectrum you have bands that do very accurate sets, like the ELO supergroup from 2019. They were incredible. They had like 50 musicians on stage at The Hi Hat performing ELO so perfectly, you could swear they were pantomiming. Other honorable mentions off the top of my head would be Polartropica doing Madonna in 2016 or 2017, Walking Sleep as Fleetwood Mac in 2009. Honestly, though, I haven’t been disappointed yet with any band. The fact that they take the time to do this is impressive enough for me. It’s hard to sit and watch the bands because I am putting these shows on, performing in them and running around all night, so I don’t have that crowd perspective as much as others. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on personal faves.
Please tell us about this year—what can we expect? Anything you can tease would be appreciated!
Sean: This is going to be the second “Stay at Home Edition” that we’re streaming. Because of COVID last year, I couldn’t do it live obviously, which would have likely been The Hi Hat as they have been our home for a few years now.
I had no intention of doing it last year, but a friend of mine motivated me to try something, so I thought maybe if the bands recorded their own covers and shot the videos from home I could stitch it together and make some sort of presentation. After that, I went nuts on the concept which was supposed to convey the feeling you get in October watching cable late at night. So in between each band, I had interstitials that would consist of old commercials, trailers, news reports and various found footage that was Halloween related from the ’70s to the ’90s. I even had the channel surfing snow between each clip. I grew up in front of a TV so that was the feeling I wanted to convey and I think it worked. I got to say though, everyone last year did so well I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t know what to expect and everyone seemed to really dig in and have fun. It was a nice purge after such a shit year up until that point. We needed something silly like this.
This year’s show will be similar to last year, in presentation, but the theme will be less Halloween-centric and more Los Angeles centric. I am a born and raised Angeleno, so I liked the idea of a weird love letter to this weird city. There have been so many good L.A. movies and L.A. bands and I wanted to showcase that. The bands participating will be doing L.A.-based artists (with some artistic liberties…) and the in-between fun will involve the city as well.
More importantly though, each year I try to donate to a cause and last year we were able to raise over $1,000 to Save Our Stages. This year, all donations will go straight to the Midnight Mission, who help find homes and support for so many house-less people in the city. It’s a very L.A. issue and any help is good help, so I am hoping we can get some money for them this year.
Are you in a band? Do you ever play at Covers Night?
Sean: You bet. I have played every year except one I think. Even if I have a band that isn’t active or wants to do it, I’ll get a pick up band or join a pick up band. My footprint is all over this thing. Some examples of that would be the Weezer band I did with some friends. We did the Blue album one year and Pinkerton two years later. One year, I had the Raw Power Rangers booked and the day of, their Iggy (Dave Arnson from The Insect Surfers) called me and said their drummer had double booked that night and they couldn’t play. They were the big draw that year and I didn’t want them to back out at the last second, so I offered up my services and with no practice or even having met two members, we did the entirety of Raw Power that night. That was a trip. I also got to live out a fantasy and be Keith Moon one year with a pre-Tommy The Who pick up band. That was a gas.
What are some cover bands you’d like to see?
Sean: Jeez, I’ve seen so many great ones! It would be fun to see someone do a band that gets no respect (like Coldplay or Red Hot Chili Peppers) and do it really well and very straight without irony or jokes. That could be interesting. I also have yet to see a non-rock cover group, but that’s getting into a weird territory I guess.
How did you hook up with Museum of Home Video?
Sean: Last year Dash Radio was our host via Twitch. Frankly, I didn’t think MOHV would want to host us this year, so I was afraid to ask. To me, they seem like the big leagues. But my friend Jordan, who supplied me with most the interstitial footage, also supplies MOHV with clips, introduced me to Bret Berg (who runs MOHV and whom I knew tangentially) and because our show aligns with the same free wheeling, off-center sensibilities as Museum Of Home Video, it seemed like a no brainer. Luckily, Bret was game and here we are…
What will you be doing on Halloween?
Sean: I do so much stuff through the month of October like events, screenings, mazes and of course this show, that by Halloween itself I’m burnt. I have no plans as of now, but I’m sure something will come up. If not, I’m happy to pass out candy to trick or treaters and put on Shudder.
What’s the spookiest costume to wear this year?
Sean: Dressing up as a politician is a good way to scare someone.
One last thing, I made a long Halloween playlist if anyone wants to press play and walk away at a party…
Okay now it’s time for a quick chat with Eli and Mary Chartkoff, and their kids Ivan and Josie. Yes, the whole family participates in Halloween Covers Night…
Hi, Eli, is it true you and Mary have played every Covers Night—or is that just a rumor?!
Eli: I think it’s possible we only did 9 years out of 12 because I can only remember 9 bands that we covered, but that’s almost every Covers Night. MY LIFE IS TOO GLAMOROUS TO REMEMBER ALL THE DETAILS.
Well, tell me about the bands you’ve covered then…Eli: I want to point out that we never ever do straight covers, we try to do our own versions/interpretations that are different from the originals. We’ve done ABBA, Bee Gees, Barry Manilow (you may see a theme here), The Pointer Sisters, Blondie, WHAM!, Heart, The Rutles, Sparks, and I forget what else. We had an idea to do Shitty Madonna one year (which was going to be Madonna’s worst songs, like “Hanky Panky”) but that fell through.
Which ones have been your favorites and why?
Eli: There are several. ABBA was the first and we love ABBA dearly. We all had matching satin capes that Mary made. It came off really well—I remember playing “Fernando” and someone in the audience started screaming hysterically, that was fun.
Barry Manilow was great—that was with our friends John and Ashley. My main memory of that was that John and Ashley programmed an electronic backing track with Speak & Spell vocals for “I Write The Songs.” We didn’t actually sing/play that song, we did an interpretive dance to it with tiny tambourines. Apparently we could hear the full track onstage but nobody in the audience could, so it just looked like we were doing a little dance up there for our own amusement, which is a fond memory.
Blondie, which we did with our band Madame Headdress, was a favorite because our arrangements were so different from the originals & they came out really well. It was a tap dance/free jazz/choral version. We got to do “Atomic,” one of my favorite songs of all time, with Mary playing the guitar part on tenor sax. We did a choral arrangement of “Dreaming” that was a favorite and went down well.
Heart was also great. That was just Mary and me and we did it only with drums and fuzz bass. I wore a long wig to try to look like Ann Wilson but instead I looked more like Joey Ramone. We played last on the show at midnight that year and I don’t think anyone expected what they saw—Heart meets Ramones. We made sure we did a bunch of ’80s Heart, which is my favorite Heart.
How did you pick this year’s cover band?
Eli: The theme for this year was L.A. Bands, and my first thought was to do one of our friends’ bands…but which one? How can you pick one of your friends and not the others? You can’t! So we decided to go with a band that we aren’t friends with (to my regret) but is still from L.A. We all love Sparks and Ivan has been playing Kimono My House a lot lately, so it was an easy choice.
How did you recruit the players? Anything you can tease would be appreciated!
Eli: It is a very special band of friends and family. We have a string section (Pauline Lay), fantastic clothes, dancers, lights, and a scene-stealing dog involved. There is also a very handsome gentleman playing bass whose name I will not at present reveal. [Blush. -ED]
How would you describe your musical taste lately?
Eli: For me, it’s sort of format-specific. I have a fantasy of owning a jukebox someday and have been buying a bunch of 45s for this hypothetical jukebox. I don’t know if this reflects my taste so much as “this would be awesome to have in a jukebox.” So recently I bought the disco version of “C Is For Cookie” from Sesame Street, the theme song to Wonder Woman (the Lynda Carter version, of course), and a Run DMC/Beastie Boys megamix by DJ Bacon from Australia. I’d love to get more current songs on 45 rpm for my fantasy jukebox but not as many people make 7″ singles nowadays as I’d like. Get with it, current people!
Mary says her taste these days is for The Alpensisters and Plaza. The Alpensisters are a pair of ladies who dress up in Tyrolean folk costume and sing songs in Dutch about (as far as I can tell) sausage and beer and similar things. The link is to their version of “Like A Prayer,” which is definitely the best Madonna cover of all time. Plaza is amazing, they’re kind of like an early ’90s version of Boney M. from Belgium. All of their songs have titles like “Yo Yo,” “O-Oh,” “Heigh De Ho,” etc. They dress like bellhops and the lead singer has a dramatically-lowered voice. Highly recommended!
Josie (who performs as a dancer and singer in our videos) currently prefers “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar.
Ivan (who sings lead on “I Wish I Looked A Little Better”) is into glam pop. Bowie, Roxy Music, and Brett Smiley are his favorites.
What are some cover bands you’d like to see?
Eli: While we appreciate a good cover song, we’re not really into cover bands in the “sounds/looks just like the original” sense. We want to hear versions of songs that are different from the originals! That said: we have a bootleg (not on YouTube, unfortunately) live recording of Grace Jones performing with an orchestra at Fire Island in 1979. It has an extended monologue in the middle where Grace talks drunkenly to the audience and asks for juice. There’s a disembodied, bored-sounding voice that comes in at various points in the tape and announces “Fire Island, 1979” (or something like that) over the music. So if someone wanted to do a cover band of that, with the drunk monologue and the bored disembodied voice and all, yeah, I’d see it.
What’s it like playing in a musical family? What does everyone contribute to the family band and art-making?
Eli: It’s the best! I’m super grateful that our kids are willing to participate, they are very, very good sports. We do all sorts of art projects together— painting, playing music, sewing, making DIY board games.
But obviously we want our kids to have their own projects, and I should point out that Ivan makes his own music as Darth Walter and the Thunderkids and it rules and we are extremely proud of him.
What will you be doing on Halloween?
Eli: Taking the young ones trick or treating!
What’s the spookiest costume to wear this year?
Josie: “A red-eyed guy dressed like a clown that’s really funny.”
Ivan: “A really old bowl of guacamole, but it has sharp teeth, like razors. It’s also sort of moldy, just a little bit, around the edges. The bowl of guacamole also has a headband that says ‘I Heart Rambo’ on it.”
What’s the best Halloween jam of all time?
Ivan: “Queen Jacula” by Lemming.
Eli: I know I’m biased, but I’m going to say “Werewolf” by Shirley Rolls!
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