Sunday, August 30, 2009

Some Day it Will Be My Job to Go to Live Shows

I used to be a several-shows-a-month kind of lady. And as with anything, the novelty and excitement of live music started to wear off because I experienced it so frequently. If it were my job to go to live shows, that'd be one thing. But I have a during-the-day job and shows have to fit into the outskirts. Sad. For a variety of reasons, the days of several shows a month are long gone. I'm much more selective about my shows now, which, in my day job/old age, is a preferable way to go about things. Fortunately, the past few months have seen some shows that were certainly worth the pain and sacrifice of venturing out into a night of willful sleep deprivation.

Mates of State, (whose family blog, Band on the Diaper Run, is still a source of pure glee for me), co-headlined a tour with Black Kids and closed out the show in DC. The co-headline meant an hour-long show as opposed to the usual 90 minutes, which was obviously a bit of a bummer. During the song, Now, there was a loud crackle that my brother thought was a blown speaker since there was a marked difference in sound afterwards. Luckily it was "fixed" (or something) soon after because the sound just kind of crept back to normal levels. Regardless of these minor setbacks, Kori and Jason performed from two separate, portable, raised platforms surrounded by translucent, orange orb lanterns and per usual, played a tight, vibrant set. Watching Kori dance with only the lower half of her body while her top half is fully committed to rockin' her organ and keyboard is an extraordinary thing. Two members of string metal band, Judgement Day, joined Mates of State on stage and were an amazing asset. After their last song, the duo returned to the stage sans their Judgement Day back up band, and performed a lovely, relevant cover of Tom Waits' Long Way Home. The setlist spanned their entire discography, which is something I always appreciate from them. Plus, I was kind of OK with them only playing for an hour because I had seen them a few months prior at The Black Cat, where they played an even larger, even more representative batch of songs, for even longer. [On a Personal Epilogue Note: I almost ran out of gas on the way home because I didn't want to stop at an Exxon. When my brother and I left for the show, I thought I'd be OK even though my tank was close to empty. But being on the streets of DC late on a Saturday night means a lot less driving and a lot more idling because those people just stop right in the middle of the street! They don't give a crap! So the gas situation became a little more dire on the way home. The first gas station we saw was an Exxon and I told my brother not to stop there because I hadn't given any of my money to Exxon in years. He shook his head at me and said, "Yeah, I get that you don't want to support them, but this is different. You need GAS." I said, "I know, but I don't want to get gas from Exxon! I think we'll be OK. If the next station we see is an Exxon, we'll stop. I won't tempt fate twice." He shook his head again and said, "Ya know...I've always wondered how people run out of gas. This is how." A few hundred feet later, a Shell station appeared out of nowhere (seriously, I'm pretty sure it wasn't there before, wasn't real and only appeared at that moment because I am the luckiest woman alive) and we didn't run out of gas! I had less than a gallon left. Ha!]

I had been hoping to take a dear friend to the Mates of State show because it fell very close to her birthday. Alas, she wasn't free that night, so I bought her and her boyf tickets to a show at a later date instead: The Shins. This was a very exciting deal for me because the last time I'd seen The Shins was at the giant behemoth of a venue that is D.A.R. Constitution Hall (also with this birthday friend). This time through, they played the much more measonably-sized 9:30 Club and sounded as phenomenal as I'd remembered them. Their set included two new songs and a cover of the Beach Boys' Girl Don't Tell Me, and since they weren't promoting a new disc, they played a number of songs from their first release. The glory of this was overwhelming. The dazed agitation of James Mercer singing, "One wound-up punch of intuition lays flat my whole take on us" was predictably enhanced in the flesh. With a partially new cast of characters, these guys are true candy for the ears. They performed revelatory arrangements of their stellar collection of songs, building all kinds of anticipation for Those to Come.

Neko Case. When Ms. Case's album, Middle Cyclone, came out, I thought to myself, "Wow, I am going to have a lot to say about this when I write about my favorite music of 2009." Then I realized I was being crazy and hoarding, so I am writing about it now. Plus I saw her perform at the 9:30 Club and Rams Head Live! so it's relevant for this post too. Just like with any band I love, when I sit down and think about how to describe their sound or how their sound affects me, I am overwhelmed with a feeling that I cannot possibly find the appropriate English words to communicate the ridiculous amazingness. The thing is, I can't. I really can't. There is no way that I can effectively depict my love for the various music I write about, in a way that will get you to understand my experience. That disclaimer seems especially in order before tackling the daunting task of describing the live shows of Neko Case. Neko Case's live shows take all the wild, earthly genius of her albums, packages it for transport and then sets it free in a controlled, staged environment right before your very eyes. Her longtime, rock-steady, incredibly talented touring band ensures a tight dynamic set from night to night and her comfortable, witty, goofy banter with the always-delightful Kelly Hogan is icing on the cake. On Middle Cyclone, Case sings about kinds (and means) of nature-- human nature, animal nature and how we reside in the external world of nature. She distinguishes between the three entities to establish a separation...and then croons about the relationship between them, magnifying the overlap, similarities and oneness of humans, animals and our nature-al world, in order to enhance that relationship. Whether she's singing about pharaohs, animal instincts, a tornado in love with you or humans' inability to recognize creatures of the wild as wild, Case's music has a way of liberating both human and beast alike by celebrating us in our own innativity. Better still, there seems to be no one better-suited than Neko to sing about this particular version of how we're same same but different. When she sings "I'm a man-man-man, man-man-man-eater," there's a phenomenal dual truth that lies in the fact that we're hearing this dreamy heartbreaker sing the voice of a man-eating animal. Her live shows do certainly swallow me whole and I, for one, am never surprised.

When The National played the 9:30 Club in May, they did that thing that 9:30 Club sometimes does where the band plays two shows in one night. Then the band played a third 9:30 Club show the next night. I went to two of those shows. The Brooklyn boys always put on a good show and these two shows were no exception. Backing band tour member Colin Stetson opened with an impressive, unorthodox performance that you really just have to experience (I'm hoping he'll hook up with this guy) and the woodwind arrangements he was a part of for The National carried the band's songs just as well as the other arrangements they've done in the past. The band was promoting the AIDS/HIV-fighting compilation Dark Was the Night and debuted three new songs. For the record, I would've taken additional performances of Mr. November in lieu of the new ones. Not that the new ones were bad at all-- it's just that I didn't know them yet anyway and just imagine hearing this live. It's goooooood.

Cyndi Lauper/Rosie O'Donnell. Yes. The Human Rights Campaign has been doing a True Colors Tour for the past few years that involves a 40-plus-dollar ticket to a venue an hour away from me. And while I'm always up for a big gay party with big gay music, I have yet to make it to a True Colors date. Cyndi Lauper and Rosie O'Donnell have been staples of the tour, which decided not to do a big multi-city outdoor amphitheater trip as in years past. Instead, Cyndi and Rosie went on the ten-city Girls Night Out Tour together, playing the 9:30 Club in DC. What?? That's what I said when I first read about the tour. It's safe to say that I never thought I would ever see Cyndi Lauper or Rosie O'Donnell live. Not for lack of want, of course-- I just never thought my path would ever yield the live experiencing of such celebrity. And here was the opportunity to see both of them live together at the 9:30 Club. Obviously, I jumped all over it! It was amazing. Rosie O'Donnell was slated to go on first and do a 30-minute comedy act. Fifteen minutes after she was scheduled to go on, the stage was empty. I found this weird because I've pretty much never seen a band go on late at the 9:30 Club. They run a tight ship. A little more than 20 minutes after she was supposed to come out, Rosie came on and explained that her plane had landed 17 minutes prior. We all expressed our cheer-ful appreciation that she had literally landed and then come directly to the club and she was off and running. There seem to be a lot of strong polarized opinions about Rosie. I like her and always have and I thought she was great. She talked a lot about her family, going through menopause and her love of Then she came back out later to sing back-up and play backing drums for Cyndi! Cyndi Lauper. Let me start by saying that for me, Time After Time alone would've been worth the price of admission. On the way to the venue I realized that I'd forgotten my earplugs that I wear so religiously and then thought to myself, "Well, it's Cyndi Lauper. I don't really think she's going to blow the roof off." Yeah, Cyndi Lauper blew the roof off. I was delighted to find that she and her backing band played a very rock 'n' roll show with max volume and guitar solos. One of the first things she did when she got on stage was to remove her shoes for greater dance move mobility. She bopped (which was a real highlight, by the way-- that thumping bass line was siiiiick) all over the stage, draping herself on speakers and lifting her legs and excuse the extra cheese factor, but it really was a great girls night out! Which is good, considering girls just want to have fun. [Wow. Apologies again.]

Virgin Mobile Freefest. After getting tickets for this thing about two months ago, I actually didn't end up going. Standing in line to pick up my tickets the Friday night before the show was a bit of a nightmare that involved forgetting my phone, finding out I needed my confirmation number for the tickets, asking a stranger to borrow his phone and rain. After all that hubbub, two friends ended up not being able to go at the last minute, and my brother woke up with some kind of flu-like illness. I contemplated going by myself to see (among many other great things), Weezer play Pork and Beans, but in the end I opted to stay home, hang out with my sick brother, write this post and be home to watch Entourage. 'Cause ya know, happiness only real when shared. Maybe next year?

  • Upcoming Shows I'm Totally Stoked About:

The Weakerthans - John K. Samson and the guys never disappoint me. Ever.

Sunny Day Real Estate/The Jealous Sound - My memory of Sunny Day Real Estate's live shows are that they are some of the best in existence. I hope my memory serves me. I'm excited to see Nate Mendel back in the fold. The fact that they're playing with The Jealous Sound pretty much just blows my mind. I'm sure that I will have plenty to say about this show later.

Built to Spill - These guys are one of my Brother's favorite bands of all time so I always go with him to experience the serious skills. They also never disappoint...except maybe a little sometimes when the number of minutes they've been jamming goes into the double digits. Still cool though, of course.

Thrice - With their latest release, they've, once again, pushed their boundaries. They are always so good. They will be so good.

Stay tuned...