Sunday, April 12, 2009

Neko Case--9:30 Club, Washington, DC

The 9:30 Club was in high spirits last Thursday. NPR was in the house to cover Neko Case’s second and last soldout show at the venue. And so was NQL. (I don’t know how NPR hits the town, but I took mass transit from Adams Morgan, and let me tell you this, the characters aboard the 92 bus would give even those rascals back in Chicago that ride the red line deep into the night the Willies.) It was a classic contrast of styles. NPR often does live recordings of shows at the 9:30 Club to rebroadcast on their respected All Songs Considered program. NQL often attends live shows and complains about the price of beer.

I arrived just before the opening act and ordered a quick Budweiser which cost an unconscionable $6. I had no idea who was opening but I knew it wasn’t Will Sheff of Okkervil River because I would have remembered that. Imagine my surprise when Will Sheff entered stage right to modest applause. (I believe he was a fill-in for the original opening act, Crooked Fingers, who had to cancel.) Sheff played mostly new material, save for a great version of “Just Give Me Time” from Okkervil River’s Sleep And Wake-Up Songs EP. Everything else, other than Black Sheep Boy’s “A Stone,” came from their last two albums. Only about one-third of the audience seemed enthused, everyone else was chatting it up while waiting for the headliner. Sheff's songs sound better with his band than when performed solo, which says nothing other than the fact that the band that he fronts is amazing. Nevertheless, unexpectedly seeing one of my favorite songwriters perform a quick opening set for Neko Case is a pretty good deal. And I didn’t even have to go to Best Buy to purchase my ticket!

Neko Case took an annoying 45 minutes before hitting the stage with her fantastic band. She immediately apologized for wearing the same shirt from the night before. This is noteworthy because it reminded me of a time when I was debating with a few friends whether Neko Case is attractive. Keep in mind, this is a really stupid thing to even argue because she’s clearly very attractive. But one of my friends stated, “I don’t know, she just looks like the type of person who would have really bad body odor.” At the time, the statement was without merit and completely hilarious. Now, it might just be completely hilarious.

They opened with “Maybe Sparrow” from 2006’s triumphant Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Great song from an even better album. (Audrey Wen is going to rue the day she decided to bring Furnace Room Lullaby to the deserted island instead of Fox Confessor...) Some slight sounds problems were present at the beginning, but they were gone once we were three or four songs deep.

Not long after the sound improved, some guy yelled “Don’t Fear the Reaper!” I don’t know who the guy was, but he should probably refund a fraction of my ticket cost. For the rest of the show, Case spent a couple of minutes between songs talking about the “Reaper.” Not the song, the actual Reaper. She talked about making out with the Reaper, breaking up with the Reaper, getting back together with the Reaper, doing who-knows-what with the Reaper. If it sounds confusing and stupid, it’s not because you had to be there. It felt that way to me, too. I urge everyone to listen to the concert at NPR’s All Songs Considered just so you can see I am not exaggerating. She name-dropped the Reaper about 75 times. Is there an inside joke about the Reaper that I am not aware of? And if there is, everyone else must have been in on it. Case seems to have the uncanny ability to make everyone in her audience laugh any time she says anything into the microphone.

I probably shouldn’t be complaining. I have seen Case in concert before and know that the on-stage banter comes with the price of the ticket. She’s an engaging personality, but you start to get the idea that it would suck sitting next to her on an airplane. You’re trying to read a book; she’s trying to talk to you (not to mention the body odor).

In between talking about the Reaper, they decided to play some songs. The title track from her latest effort, Middle Cyclone, stood out splendidly. Same with “Margaret Vs. Pauline” from Fox Confessor. But the highlight from where I was standing was “The Tigers Have Spoken,” because it’s a great song, and the video screen behind the band had some interesting shots of a tiger roaming around and just looking cool. It’s rare that I’ll watch a video screen instead of the persons in front of the screen performing the music, but that’s what I did. I believe before the song she mentioned that it was dedicated to the Defenders of Wildlife. But it may have been after the song, I don’t really remember because I was thinking about the Neko Case live album The Tigers Have Spoken, and how before the second track Case states, “This is a Buffy Sainte-Marie song,” in a sort of southern drawl that would make even Loretta Lynn blush. So, during her between song banter, I started trying to figure out if this was some sort of pose, or if she really talks like that. I don’t think she does, but my analysis was interrupted when, for some reason, Case yelled “We’re living on the Edge,” into the microphone, reminiscing the old Aerosmith song. This made me laugh, even though I had no idea what the context was. But I started to think about Aerosmith, mostly Aerosmith’s legacy. I can’t help but wonder how I would feel about them as a band had I been born ten years earlier.

This is how I recommend taking in a Neko Case show. Listen to the songs, but while she’s talking about the Reaper, just let your mind wander. After they played “The Tigers Have Spoken,” I started thinking about Tiger Cubs and whether that was as far as I got, or if I ever attained the title of Cub Scout. This soon took a backseat to regretting the fact that I wasn’t positioned in the balcony or sitting down. I was close to the stage, but was starting to get a sore back and neck that comes from standing in the same place for two hours with your head slightly tilted back. I’m convinced this is why every music reviewer past the age of 40 has awful posture.

Neko Case and Co. wrestled away my attention from Steven Tyler and the Pinewood Derby when they played the Harry Nillson cover “Don’t Forget Me,” which is also from Middle Cyclone. It sounded just as soothing and well orchestrated as it does on the album. Soon after, even though the show wasn’t over, I left because I had work the next day and I am lame. I can’t help but wonder if I would have left early had I been born ten years later.

Probably not. But in the end, it doesn't matter, I had heard enough and was ready to go. And I wasn't the only one. The Reaper was on the 92 bus back home.



Audrey said...

Picking Furnace Room Lullaby instead of Fox Confessor was a carefully made decision. Though yes, Maybe Sparrow is a ridiculously fucking awesome song.

Jenifer said...

It's like one of those lazer light shows.

Are you scared to be alone at home need security

Alex said...

We appreciate the spam, Jenifer.

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