Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The National, Neko Case, Wye Oak @ Air Canada Centre, December 8, 2011

  The National @ Air Canada Centre: photo by Michael Ligon

Just taking a moment to post a link to my photos from the fantastic triple bill of The National, Neko Case, and Wye Oak which happened down at Air Canada Centre near the beginning of the month. By all accounts, it was a fantastic show. Part of me was dreading having to see the show at Air Canada Centre, but the "theatre" configuration that the venue was transformed into, combined with my fantastic seat which was just about dead centre in the 100's section, gave me a terrific view for the show. First openers, Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak, did a fair job entertaining the sparse audience on hand with their moody, melodic, indie rock. For a duo, their sound sounded quite full, making a lasting impression on the audience. Vocalist Jenn Wasner, gave thanks for being on this great bill with The National and Neko Case, and humorously expressed that the all thing bad about playing these shows was getting drunk too early in the evening.

The last times I'd seen Miss Neko Case live was back in 2009, having seen her twice, first at Trinity St. Paul Church in April of that year, then later that summer making her debut at Massey Hall. For various reasons, both shows weren't in my opinion the best I'd ever seen Miss Case, surprising when given those venues, one would hope those shows would have knocked me off my feet. Even more surprising is that Neko's most recent local show, this time at Air Canada Centre, ranks as one of the best sets of hers I've ever seen. Paced well, many of the set's songs were taken from her last few albums (Middle Cyclone and Fox Confessor Brings The Flood) with a couple of new songs sprinkled in. Neko kept her humourous banter flowing throughout the set between songs, seeming giddier, and well naughtier than ever. Joining her on this tour was guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and for this tour specially, John Convertino of Calexico on drums. Musically tight as I've ever heard Neko, highlights included the pristine "Vengeance Is Sleeping" with Kelly on background vocals and Paul on guitar as well as the raucous "Red Tide" with particularly fiery background vocals from Kelly. As always when they're in town, a shout was given to our own The Sadies (who wrote the song "Hold On, Hold On" for Neko). Fantastic set all around. Hope I won't have to wait two years until I see her live again.

As 'indie' bands make the natural progression from the small stage to bigger stages when they tour Toronto, The National have been one of the few bands that has just gotten better. I'd not have guessed that The National could have outdone the last show I'd seen of them in Toronto when they played a fantastic show at Massey Hall (one show of a two-night stint) back in June 2010 but by all accounts, The National reached even greater heights. What The National accomplished was making the night an experience on a variety of factors - such as visually interesting and colourful screen projections, humorous banter from vocalist Matt Berninger throughout the night, and encouragement from the band to keep the audience engrossed and participating. On that last factor, the Dessner brothers at one point got the crowd clapping leading to a natural transition to most everyone in the audience to stand up. From there on, the show just got better and better. Matt would later on invite fans onto the floor which would soon lead to a virtual onslaught of many more fans to invite themselves onto the floor (leading security to cut off the access to the floor, and Matt sheepishly pondering his original idea and whether it was such a good one). But perhaps the icing on the cake in terms of Matt's efforts was when he ran into the stands singing and proceeded to navigate himself through the seats (literally crossing near me a couple of rows up from me) from one end of the stands to the other and then back onto the stage. Man, that was one long-ass mic cord. Local musical hero Owen Pallett was a surprise guest joining in with the band on violin for a few songs including a new one. Things had just about reached their peak as the main set drew to a close but reached even higher with the encore, featuring a non-amplified rendition of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", with the entire band and including Wye Oak making their way to the edge of the stage, performing acoustically and singing without mics. Singing with passion to the audience, which in turn drew the audience to sing along as well, the performance, transformed the environment into a very intimate setting. It's such a rare thing to experience in a venue as big as that, and I am truly thankful.

Photos: The National, Neko Case, Wye Oak @ Air Canada Centre, December 8, 2011
MySpace: Wye Oak
MySpace: Neko Case
MySpace: The National

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