concert review: neko case & the national

so, the husband and i spent an absolutely perfect evening at the hollywood bowl this last sunday, seeing one of our favorite bands plus one of my favorite singer-songwriters.

sidenote #1: can i just say that i pity the folks who’ve never had the pleasure of seeing a show at the hollywood bowl? it’s divine. honestly, just divine. beautiful view, trees, wine, weather to die for (in the summer/fall months, natch) and acoustics like you can’t believe. there are only two downfalls – stacked parking and hard wooden benches – but those can be easily forgiven in light of everything else.

anyway! when i heard that neko case was going to open for the national, a band that the husband and i just adore, i knew i had to go, even if i had to hunt tickets down via other avenues (which, thankfully, i didn’t – but that also meant the show didn’t sell out right away, which makes me scratch my head in vast confusion over people’s musical tastes nowadays). while i’d seen the national before, i hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing neko yet and she was definitely on my bucket list of artists i had to experience.

the show started out with sharon van etten, a very adorable singer-songwriter that had previously worked with the national on think you can wait (which she came out and sang on in their set). she had a very mellow sound that lulled us all into the night quite nicely and made me want to hunt down her songs.

check out sharon’s set closer, love me, which is a haunting, slow song that drifts languidly across the air:

onto the sublime neko case

sidenote #2: can i just say, what a fab dress she had on?

there are some artists who are truly artists. neko case is one of these people. her lyrics are poetry, her music carefully pieced together to create a mosaic of intricate, lovely sounds. and her voice? chills, friends. chills.

neko had a short playlist, just eleven songs – which i get is par for the course, considering she was an opening act and all – but it truly felt too short. but maybe that’s just me, since i would have preferred to hear more. she’s also disarmingly charming, very low-key with a nice, dry sense of humor. she did a number of older songs, with only a couple from her last LP middle cyclone (an album i utterly adore). there were, however, a few new songs – all promising, which served to tease us listeners for her upcoming album. t bone burnett came out halfway through the set to play with the band, who also included bo koster from my morning jacket and lucy wainwright roche on backup vocals (filling in for a sick kelly hogan).

neko introduced city swansas one of her new songs. it’s fab:

here’s calling cards. seriously, friends. only neko can make “blah blah blah” into insightful lyrics that makes you want to swoon from all the auditory beauty you’re experiencing. it’s apparently written expressly for all her bandmates over the years.

sidenote #3: pardon the talking from behind me. for some reason, this couple decided to spend the better part of all three acts talking. why they chose to do this at a concert instead of a coffee shop baffles me. DUDES. if you want to flirt on a first, or heck, fifth date, do it where it’s not going to disrupt everyone else who came to enjoy the show!

so. the national. what is there really to say about this band that i haven’t already fangirl babbled about already?

bloodbuzz, ohio, in particular was pretty amazing – the band’s lights popped like fireworks during the performance. and sorrow was lovely and different, whatwith st. vincent taking over a couple stanzas all by herself. abel was rip-roaring, screaming fun, mr. novemeber an excellent anthem for the tumultuous political environment we’re suffering through, and there was nothing like thousands of people singing “i was afraid i’d eat your brains / because i’m evil” at the top of their lungs (during conversation 16). the band closed with about today (a song i’ve blogged about in the past), and matt tossed the bowl’s timer in a dramatic, rockstar fashion that had the crowd cheering and lamenting the end of the show all at once.

not to be outdone by neko case’s use of guest artists, the national brought on stage annie clark, aka st. vincent to sing backup on several songs, as well as the calder quartet. both acts added a nice something-something to the night.

anyway, here’s england (with more apologies over the guy behind me. yeesh. try to ignore his lame attempts at flirting with his girl):

matt introduced thirsty as a song the band wrote shortly after 9/11 and said they rarely perform it. which is a shame, because it’s quite good. st. vincent came out to sing backing vocals on it:

you think i kid about the national being one of the best live bands kicking nowadays. do yourself a favor and catch them live the next time they roll into your city, and then you’ll see that it’s blatantly true.

buy high violet, the nationals’ latest release, HERE.
buy middle cyclone, neko case’s latest release, HERE.
buy epic, sharon van etten’s latest release, HERE.
buy strange mercy, st. vincent’s latest release, HERE.

sidenote #4: photos not mine. i totally forgot my camera and only had my phone, and i never can seem to find a good enough app to zoom in properly.

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