Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nina Nastasia--The Hideout, Chicago, Illinois

I wound up at everyone’s favorite dive earlier this week because New York City-based singer/songwriter Nina Nastasia was in town. This past December when I was trying to pick out my favorite record of the year, her effort You Follow Me with Jim White was left standing so it’s safe to say I’m a fan. I had been looking forward to this concert for some time—the fact that it was at the Hideout made it all the better. Other than actually figuring out a way to get there, has anyone ever had a bad time at the Hideout? Yeah, I haven’t either.

It sure is nice of this guy to take time out of his busy schedule to scare children.

Local group the Bitter Tears opened things up. Let me tell you, these clowns have about all the charm of the McCarthy hearings. When their first song was nearing its end the lead singer began crying into the microphone. At the time I wasn’t sure whether this was actually happening or if he was faking the whimpering and tears (he was), all I know is it made me feel uncomfortable. They were trying to pull off this Andy Kaufman improv-type thing. Lots of jokes, awkward pauses, a guitarist in a dress with smeared makeup…you know, that whole act. Sometimes it worked. Usually it didn’t. Although that didn’t stop the guy behind me from laughing at every single thing they did. He might have been a plant.

With limited mass transit options from the Hideout, after the show this guy's eyebrows crawled out the door and hailed a cab.

I haven’t mentioned their music yet because I didn’t stop to acknowledge the fact that music was being played until their third song. And what’s telling is their music isn’t bad at all. Their Hanukah song or the song that referenced Hanukah was great and caused me to crack a smile once or twice. Meanwhile, the guy behind me was laughing all over himself. Throughout the set, the guy in the dress would pick up a trombone or some other instrument and just quickly blow it into the microphone at a completely inopportune time. It was pretty funny but I would like to see this band play and leave just some of the theatrics at home. Actually, scratch that, I’m being too harsh and should probably concede that they were rather amusing. Later when trying to think of what song to play they tried an impromptu version of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”. The lead singer hadn’t the first clue what the lyrics were so watching him trying to sing was rather awesome but that was after the guitarist asked, “Isn’t this the song about that time Clapton’s wife killed their son?”. Yikes. I think we’ll leave the Bitter Tears on that note. Thanks for the good time, guys.

I don't think we'll see the Bitter Tears opening for Eric Clapton anytime soon.

Nina Nastasia was slated to play by herself for this evening. No backing band. No Jim White. Just Nina. You should have seen how they propped her up on the stage. She was sitting on a chair that was resting on top of a very unstable four legged platform atop the stage. Had she moved her chair back six inches she would have fallen off onto the stage. Was that really the best the Hideout could do? It would have looked less awkward if they had just had Tim Tuten on all fours with Nastasia sitting on his back playing guitar. In fact, later she didn’t even leave the stage for an encore. She just stayed there because she was afraid to try and climb down. I’m not kidding. (I would have advised against whiskey being the drink of choice while being on that thing but she seemed fine with it.)

Right in the middle of her first song the indie-paparazzi showed up. About four people stationed in the front just started clicking away with cameras. And I’m not talking about silent, innocuous digital cameras. These were large, loud, and impossible to ignore. They might as well have been those old-fashioned cameras with bursting bulbs. They didn’t just take a few pictures from a few angles and quit either. They relentlessly snapped pictures throughout the show. (On the bright side, the guy behind me stopped laughing.) But it was incredibly distracting. I remember towards the end of the show wondering what that noise was that was taking my mind off of all the cameras and I remembered Nastasia was playing seven feet away from me. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but when you’re talking about an acoustic show with no backing band it’s a different story. People were not pleased.

I think this is a fantastic picture. Please don't use it without my permission.

Even though one of the members of the indie-razzi (hereinafter referred to as “girl in the black shirt”) was standing right in front of me, I successfully evaded her for a bit and enjoyed “Late Night”. You have to give Nastasia credit, she seemed undaunted by the commotion up front and played nearly every song off of You Follow Me. (For a small measure of revenge I lifted all of these pictures off what I think are the girl in the black shirt’s flickr account. They seem to be from the precise angle from where she was standing. She posted some pretty good pictures but this should surprise no one because she had 179 to choose from.)

Nastasia really is a great performer and even better songwriter. I was impressed with how effortlessly she breezes through songs that seem to have a somewhat difficult range and…uh-oh, I think a girl in a white shirt is giving the girl in the black shirt a dirty look. There might be an incident…stay tuned. Yep, as soon as Nastasia finished “I’ve Been Out Walking” the girl in the white shirt came over and sternly told the girl in the black shirt to stop taking so many pictures. The girl in the black shirt looked a bit flustered and lowered her camera. Good work, girl in the white shirt! You just saved the day. About this time Nastasia started bantering with the crowd and this happened:

Girl1: Play “This Is What It Was”!

Nastasia: You mean “This Is What It Is” (from The Blackened Air)?

Girl1: Yeah, that one!

She started to play it and realized she had forgotten how and quit. High comedy. And what is this!? The girl in the black shirt is taking pictures again! Nooooooo! Although, you have to kind of admire her. She’s keenly aware that she’s in a room where 95% of the people despise her but the prospect of ruining everyone’s night doesn’t concern her in the slightest. I respect that. (The girl in the white shirt is fuming.)

This is just some dude from the girl in the black shirt's flickr account. I think it said his name was Tom.

If this review reads completely uninformative, incoherent, and nonsensical that’s because that’s how the night felt. I was excited to be there even after the Sideshow Bob opening act left the stage but it really was hard to focus on the show with the girl in the black shirt taking pictures. I never felt like I completely got into the show because I allowed myself to be distracted by the indie-razzi which is partially my fault. When my friends and I left we couldn’t do anything but laugh at the experience we just had. Just know she played most of the songs off of the album of the year and as I recall mixed in some from The Blackened Air and Run to Ruin. If she returns to town anytime soon I’ll be there in a heartbeat to hopefully hear her again for the first time.



Anonymous said...

Wow, you have no sense of humor.

I was at that show. Everyone in the room was laughing their asses off at The Bitter Tears, because they're funny (unlike your lame attempt at aping one of the writers for Pitchfork).

Oh, and be happy that you didn't see Jim with Nina; he tramples all over her live. I love the guy (been a big fan of The Dirty Three / Tren Brothers, etc. for years), but his drumming doesn't work with her music when he's getting equal writing credits. "I'm trying to fill in for the other instruments that aren't there". Yeah, OK Jim. He's fine when he's in one of her bands at least.

$10 says you like Vampire Weekend.

Alex said...

You were the guy standing behind me, weren't you? Did you even read what I wrote (10 months ago)? I said I thought they were funny! And you obviously have no idea what you're talking about because I was clearly trying to ape an Idolator writer when I wrote that.

Interesting tidbit about Jim, I would not have known that. Especially for how quiet and brush-like the drumming is on the records.

Oh, btw, you owe me $10. I'm rather indifferent about Vampire Weekend. Double or nothing says you like Tom Brady.

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