Sunday, April 4th, 2004
Furnace Room Lullabye
What an amazing show.
I don’t remember ever seeing a show advertised so emphatically as ‘sold out’ before. No tickets in stores, no tickets at Ticketmaster, no tickets at the door, no room on industry guest lists. If you have no ducats, GO HOME. I didn’t even see scalpers outside of Lee’s Palace. The show, of course, was the first night of Neko Case and Sadies’ five-night sort-of-residency in the city for the month of April. The shows weren’t to promote an album, as is usually the case, but to create one – Neko & co. were travelling with a full mobile recording van with the intention of creating an album of new material recorded live as opposed to a typical live album which would double as a greatest-hits collection (NOW talked to Neko about her intentions for the live album). What this meant was that the audience would be treated to a pretty unconventional set list and performance.
I got there well before the advertised start time for the openers, and was surprised to see them already onstage when I walked in the door. It turned out that Carolyn Mark had recruited Jim & Jennie & The Pinetops as her backing band and was belting out a few country numbers to start things off. When she was done, Jim & Jennie came back out to do a full set of their own – How anyone could not get their feet tapping when confronted with expertly played, high-energy bluegrass is beyond me. They get extra points from me for daring to tell the notoriously chatty Toronto crowd to shut up. They didn’t oblige, of course, but it was worth a shot.
Neko took the stage just after midnight and the next two hours were an almost non-stop set of unbelievably good music. Neko has a voice like a force of nature and with the Sadies offering a rock-solid although slightly more restrained perfomance than usual (they were backing after all) and Carolyn Mark and Kelly Hogan along as backup singers, she had all the ingredients for an amazing performance. Requests for old favorites were greeted with an apologetic, “We have to play what the van tells us” – there would be no deviation from the predetermined set list on this evening. What the audience got was an ecletic mix of covers and new material ranging in style from country (natch), gospel, pop and folk. Despite having a voice steeped in twang and put on this earth to sing songs of yearning, Case is an amazingly versitile talent (see The New Pornographers for proof). The highlight of the show for me was their performance of the traditional “This Little Light Of Mine” with Jim & Jennie, centered around jaw-dropping seven-part roundabout vocal harmonies. It’s nigh-impossible to describe in words, you’ll just have to hear it when the record comes out. The encore was quite literally an encore – for the purposes of the live recording, they reprised a good portion of the set to get alternate takes to even more rapturous applause. Sure, they encouraged the crowd to pretend they hadn’t heard the material just an hour previous, but I think they’d have gotten the same response even without cajoling. The band, with Case as the gregarious and engaging frontperson, had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands.
I don’t know if it’s because it was a live recording or if the renovations to Lee’s Palace were just that effective, but the sound was the best I’ve ever heard in the venue – perfect levels and clarity. I hope to God that it’s Lee’s – I would love it if everything there sounded this good in the future. The other renovations I’m a little more lukewarm about. The stage is pretty high now – I’m sure it’s greatly improved sightlines for everyone else, but if you’re one of those up front, you have to be prepared to crane your neck a little. Overall it feels much more like a proper concert venue a la the Phoenix as opposed to a bar or club. I also hope the lighting will always be as good as it was last night, though I suspect things were better lit to accommodate those videotaping the show though I was perfectly happy to take advantage of the lighting to get some choice pics.
With four more shows over the next few weeks, I’d certainly love to catch at least one more, maybe the Horseshoe show on the 28th if I turn out to be too old and creaky to make the 2AM after-hours gigs at the Matador next weekend. But even if I don’t, having been to this one will be enough to keep me going for some time. Amazing.
Hot damn, it’s been a great week for live music.
New Old 97s album! Drag It Up is in stores June 29.
Some new goodies from American Music Club – visit their website for photos from the recent tour, a live video of “Ladies and Gentlemen It’s Time” and an mp3 of another track from the new record – “Another Morning”.
Cardigans tickets for the May 13 show at Lee’s Palace will run a reasonable $18.50 and be on sale April 10 at Ticketmaster and Rotate This.
Daylight savings time is fucking me up. Well, so is being up till 3:30 – sorry, 4:30 AM – but farmer time certainly isn’t helping.
np – Neko Case / Canadian Amp