Thursday, February 15, 2007

Neko Case In Bellingham - Western Washington University PAC + Concert Download

Neko Case - Live In Bellingham at Western Washington University PAC

All I can say is wow! It was quite a night up at Western Washington University for a rare Bellingham show by Neko Case, with Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers opening. Neko has quite a history in Bellingham, with relatives in the county and a short stint here working at the 3-B Tavern back in the early 90's. I didn't really follow her much when she moved to Vancouver and started a punk band called Maow, but I did catch her first couple of shows playing at the 3-B Tavern around the release of her debut solo album, The Virginian. Her first show there is probably in my top 5 favorite concerts of all time. The bar was fairly full, but not completely sold out, so there was room to move, converse with friends and enjoy a drink or three. Opening the show was The Sadies, who have played live and recorded with her quite a bit over the years. It was my first Sadies show and it was absolutely spellbinding - their echoey, twangy sound reverberated throughout the club. After a fairly lengthy set (for an opening band) they just stayed up there and welcomed Neko Case to the stage. She only had one album out, and she played just about every song off it, along with a few covers. While I think all of her albums are great, I am thankful for being able to see her so early in her career because she definitely had a different sound back then, perhaps more fun and energetic. It was a transitional period for her, going from a punk band to a (alt) country solo artist. She was very unprofessional back then, with lots of banter between her and the crowd (which thankfully she's continued to do to this day), drinks onstage, and a set of unpolished songs that, when mistakes were made, she'd just shrugg off and continue on.

The next time I saw her she had a different backing band that features Scott and Joel, who were in the Boss Martians back then. They were great musicians, and worked okay for this period in her career, but didn't give her music the same atmosphere as the Sadies did (or her current backing band, for that matter). It was another excellent show, the club was sold out, and I even got to meet her briefly before the show. Joel, Scott, Neko and I talked a bit about their tour...it was a long time ago and having had a few drinks that night, I can't remember any of the details of our conversation. It was easy to tell though that she was having a great time making a living playing music and playing shows all over the country.

The third time I saw her wasn't fun at all. It was a dream bill - The Sadies were opening for her and acting as her backing band again, but this time it was at a large club in Seattle called Nuemos. The room was packed for the Sadies set - they put on a good show, playing for about an hour and featuring songs off their Favourite Colours CD and others. I am fairly tall, just shy of 6 feet, so I could see the stage fairly well from the back (the front was already packed), but my wife couldn't see a thing and wasn't having a good time. After their set we got a drink and a breath of fresh air outside. When we came back in the entire room was absolutely packed - there was no way another person could get into the main room without pushing or shoving their way in. It just didn't seem worth the effort for me, and my wife wasn't going to go through that kinda effort just to be squished and still not be able to see anything. So we tried to listen to the show from a hallway to the side of the stage (next to the restrooms and the smell that one would associate with restrooms). We could kinda see the stage from there, but it just wasn't fun. After about 6 or 7 songs we left. The next day I e-mailed the club and told them how bad I thought it was and asked if they had oversold the show. They apologized, but didn't really answer my question. They did give me free tickets to see the Ocean Blue the following week. I went to that show and had a great time (the club was only about half full).

When I heard that Neko was going to play in Bellingham, my wife (and I) immediately remembered our horrible experience in Seattle. She wasn't that into it, but then I mentioned that it was at the university at their performing arts center. That changed everything. The only thing we'd ever seen their was Western's symphony, so hearing Neko in a venue with seats and perfect acoustics seemed like an amazing prospect. I picked up tickets right away, which was good because it sold out quickly. The place holds about 700 people, but it could have been in a larger venue and still have sold out.

We started off the evening with drinks and dinner, then headed up for the show (the university is situated on a hill overlooking Bellingham Bay). Up front in the "VIP" row was Neko's family, Aaron of the 3-B Tavern/Mono Men, Dan of the Footstompin' Trio/Bucklebusters, and a few restaurateurs that my wife recognized. Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers opened the show with a half hour solo set on acoustic guitar and harmonica. He had a nice, mellow sound that fit the room nicely. I especially liked the songs he sang in Spanish - they suited his voice well.

After a short break Neko took the stage along with her band featuring the incredible Jon Rauhouse on guitars and pedal steel and Rachel Flotard of Visqueen on backing vocals. She played a long set, about 1 hr 45 min, including songs from all of her releases except The Virginian (she seems to have disowned that album for some reason). It was amazing to hear her in a room with such perfect sound - you could hear all of the instruments clearly, the buzzing of guitar strings, the sound of the brushes beating against the drums, and the picking of up to four guitars at a time. It was dead quiet between songs, other than banter from the stage and an occasional "whoop", "yeah", or "I love you Neko" from the crowd. The star of the show was obviously Neko, but I was floored by how well her voice blended with Flotard's voice. I haven't heard Visqueen's music yet, but I'll have to give it a try soon. Neko said she was kinda making up the setlist as they went on, which became apparent when they did a song that required Flotard's backing vocals and she was off-stage taking a break. However, she made it back on just in time for the chorus. The set included songs like "Favorite", "Set Out Running", "I Wish I Was the Moon", "The Tigers Have Spoken", "Maybe Sparrow", "Margaret Vs. Pauline", "Buckets of Rain", "Deep Red Bells", "Hold On, Hold On", "Furnace Room Lullaby", along with a bunch of others. She gave shout-outs to the 3-B Tavern and Carl Cozier Elementary school. I didn't think she lived here when she was that young, but it was cool that she still felt a connection with our small little town. She got two standing ovations at the end, after the end of her set and after the encore, and with that the show was over. It was a great, great show that might just nudge itself into my personal top 5 - I don't know if I can bump her first show here at the 3-B from that list though...

I almost forgot, you can download a full Neko Case concert from the NPR website here.

1 comment:

Joe said...

If Leo Fender had designed a womans voice, it would've sounded just like Neko's.