Monday, April 20, 2009

Da Drought Iz Over

For a while there, it seemed like going to shows was a non-essential part of my life. Since Passion Pit way back in February or whatever, I managed to avoid concert attendance for a solid 2+ months (save a brief set by Menya at the Blender Theater in March). However, last saturday was shaping up like a Sam Cooke song for me, so ventured out to the Mercury Lounge for the first time ever to accompany my friend to a show by the Aussie power-punk duo An Horse (just say it like an Aussie and it will make sense). I knew relatively little about this act other than what I'd heard on my beloved 'Sound Opinions' radio show, but I was wonderfully surprised. The group consisted of one chick shredding the electric guitar and singing, and one dude pounding at the drums. Despite the simplicity of their set-up, it was a powerful set, full of raw, confessional emotion delivered through the magic of hooky punk riffs. The highlight was certainly the final song when the headlining act, emo post-rockers The Appleseed Cast spontaneously invaded the stage playing all manner of outlanding percussion instruments. I'm almost ashamed to admit how hilarious I found the dude rocking the cow bell to be. My friend and I stuck around for the first 4 songs by the aforementioned Cast, but when she wanted leave, I lamely acquiesced due to my dread of the 90+ minute journey home awaiting me. Nonetheless, An Horse rocked my socks off, and fired up long hibernating feelings within me without my having even been familiar with their music prior to the performance. All this, however, was a warm-up to the show I witnessed earlier this evening.

I traveled back to Ithaca and skipped my Monday class solely for the chance to see the beautiful Neko Case and her boyfriends do a show in the wonderfully gothic but intimate State Theater. I was that guy, the awkward 20 something going to the concert with my unhip parents in my old hometown. We rolled up right at the start of the set by the openers Crooked Fingers. I found it highly enjoyable, probably due to a combination of their laid back music, the 3 beers in my system, and being able to sit while watching them. Their set was followed by 20-30 minute lull, which consisted mainly of my awkward interactions with my parents and Ithaca folk I hadn't seen for a few years. I was starting to lost my buzz, which contributed to the slight sense of anxiety I felt as I waited for Neko to take the stage. These feeling reached a climax as the lights finally dimmed, and the woman of my dreams took the stage.

Dressed in tight jeans, a black tank top, and looking slightly haggard thanks to a fiery bloom of tussled greasy red hair, Neko's appearance didn't disappoint. Wildly strumming an acoustic guitar, her band kicked off with a storming version of 'Maybe Sparrow,' followed by one of my current song-of-the-year candidates, 'People Got A Lotta Nerve.' This was all well and good, but something happened during their next song. Neko and her back-up singer Kelly mentioned something about 'the cheesecake factory' that I didn't follow, then launched into 'The Pharoahs' off Middle Cyclone. I like this song, but it isn't quite one of my albums favorites. However, something about watching Neko perform her songs, and witnessing her create the unearthly sounds of which she is known, caused the emotional undercurrent of her writing took hold of my conciousness. Singing along to the song, I suddenly felt a weight on my chest as she hit chorus, and my pipes started choking up. Additionally, my vision started blurring, and I realized tears were coming to my eyes as she sang "I want the pharoahs, but there's only men!" If she had gone to the chorus a second time, I'm sure the waterworks would have breached my eyelids, but mercifully the song ended before this could happen. Keep in mind, this has never happened to me at a concert before, and before last week, I had only "cried" once in maybe the last 8 years. But this emotion occurred 3 more times over the course of the performance, during 'The Red Tide,' 'Margaret Vs. Pauline,' and 'That Teenage Feeling.' The latter was probably the highlight of the show, not surprising given it's status as the centerpiece of Neko's masterpiece Fox Confessor LP. What's amazing is that the band probably didn't do even half of the songs I'd hoped for, but I was riveted throughout their entire set. I don't think I've ever felt as intensely the sense that I wanted a show to go on forever. And it's not like the band or Neko did anything that radical. There was some great stage banter, with Neko keeping it real by flipping off the audience, dropping multiple F-bombs, and talking about watching porn. What really moved me about the show, I think, was how personal I realized the songs were to this woman, and how acutely emotional were the feelings that prompted them. Maybe my love of Neko derives from my envy of her unbelievable, god-given vocal chops (my undying fantasy is to be a great soul singer). However, unlike so many others, she maximizes her talents by making moving and (relatively) challenging music. The fact that she's a babe doesn't hurt either.

In sum, great show, possibly a 'transformative experience,' and a sign that it's high time I got back to hitting the concert scene.

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