APRIL 22, 2006
PATTEN GYM, EVANSTON, ILLINOIS
I wonder how many of the Northwestern students at this concert know how lucky they were. The double bill of MMJ and the New Pornographers was already so good that it was hard to believe these bands were coming to Evanston to play in a gym. And then it turned out that the “special guest” would be Stephen Malkmus playing a rare solo acoustic set. And then it turned out that the New Pornographers would be playing with Neko Case in the lineup — a rarity these days, since Case has been busy with her own solo concerts.
What a night. Of course, the venue sucked. Not as much as Northwestern’s Norris Student Center, where the Wrens played earlier this year, but it was definitely a gym with a bunch of kids standing around in the dark, and the sound of the bands echoing in the big room. Not the ideal place to see any of these bands, but, hey, a lot of great music has been played in gyms over the years.
Malkmus was a little awkward at first, having some trouble with guitar tuning and guitar effects (the loud bursts of noise he threw into a couple of songs, including Silver Jews’ “Blue Arrangement”), but awkwardness is part of what Maklmus’ music has always been about. Reduced to one voice and one guitar, his songs are still pretty quirky. It was nice to hear him doing that great Pavement quasi-hit, “Range Life.” The set was abbreviated, ending after just 35 minutes or so, since the concert was on a tight schedule. Or as Malkmus put it, “The Man is everywhere.” SEE PHOTOS OF STEPHEN MALKMUS.
The New Pornographers sounded very good at the recent show opening for Belle and Sebastian, but they sounded great tonight. That’s the difference that the presence of Neko Case makes. Sure, she’s ostensibly just a backup vocalist and occasional lead singer in this band, which is Carl Newman’s vehicle. But her vocals are so strong that they transform many of the tunes into double-lead-vocals.SEE PHOTOS OF THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS.
My Morning Jacket opened with “At Dawn,” which used to be their standard opening song but had fallen out of recent MMJ tours. Really nice to hear that again. (The album At Dawn is still my favorite by these guys.) Jim James is still buried under hair, though better groomed than the “Cousin It” look of a few years ago. Other members of the band looked like they had actually been in a barbershop recently. MMJ didn’t do anything especially new or different tonight, but they excelled at what they also do so well — long, passionate and powerful jams. SEE PHOTOS OF MY MORNING JACKET.
Kudos the Northwestern student organization A&O Productions for booking such a great show.