Just as we packed up a blanket and bought a 12-pack of Budweiser cans at 7 p.m. to head to Friday’s Rites of Spring, the rain began to drizzle. So we waited and waited, and then like magic, it stopped at 11:30 p.m. just in time to see Spoon. They took the stage sleekly dressed, but kicked off the respite from rain with “The Beast and Dragon Adored,” which for non-Spoon fans only needs to be described as a Slow Song. We hate when bands do that. The crowd filled the Alumni Lawn about a quarter full, and it seemed largely comprised of under-21 kids who wouldn’t have left campus anyway. That didn’t stop them from donning their flip-flops, pulling their ponytails tight and standing around posing for pics and groping each other. But Spoon picked up the pace with the intentionally misspelled “Rhthm & Soul,” which was tight despite the weird heavy reverb on the vocals. We got the impression they didn’t know what to say to 20-year-olds when guitarist Britt Daniel asked, “So, uh, is it muddy out there?” Totes! “Cherry Bomb” served as the perfect soundtrack to the budding romance and wafting bud, but Daniel momentarily forgot the words on the smooth strutter “Don’t You Evah,” and as it began to rain in light gusts aimed directly at the stage, we suspected those dudes were kinda phonin’ this one in. We couldn’t blame them: The hit “I Turn My Camera On”—the disco number literally anyone can dance to—was met with a mere smattering of applause. And when these kids did dance, it was so painfully obvious that they were just Dancing at a Show, not Dancing at a Spoon Show. Big diff, y’all. Spoon still nailed the slinky pop of “Finer Feelings.” That was a rare treat they don’t always play live. Then they encouraged people to head to the Cannery, where the New Pornographers were probably still playing. Yeah, right after I toss this Frisbee, dooood!
Saturday turned out to be pleasant, exponentially more so once Leslie Feist took to the stage around 11 p.m. As The Spin has said before: Feist is forever. If we had one complaint about her performance, it’d be the same complaint we have with her music: When she meanders into jazzy territory, it magnifies the fact that her vocal talent is up to a challenge greater than her songwriting often allows. But that’s nitpicking. At one point, she dedicated a song to a crowd surfer who did a face-plant in the grass: “Head first into university life!” she exclaimed, in a voice that was a funny and unexpected cross between Al Pacino’s introduction of his little friend and Triumph the Comic Insult Dog. She closed with “Sea Lion Woman” from The Reminder, and a rapt audience hung on every word, mulling over the song’s odd imagery and unusual, onomatopoeic vocal phrasing. Just kidding! All the brosephs in backwards ball caps were shoving their way up front, shouting, “We’re gonna get crunk!” You know how privileged white kids like to throw “ghetto parties” where everyone puts foil on their teeth and drinks 40s? Yeah.
Anyway, while we were waiting for Lil’ Jon, we probably heard 15 people turn to the person next to them and yell, “Okaaaay!” Is there any other artist for whom a single word serves as such a powerful and instantly recognized shibboleth? What an entertainer, though—we were planning to leave after a couple of songs but stayed until the end. Well, at least until he started that weird slow jam. Meanwhile, the award for most debauched moment of Rites of Spring’s closing hours goes to.... It’s a tie, actually. First, there was a young woman in short-jorts who was so fucked up that she literally could barely stand, but who kept trying to hold her head still long enough to—that’s right—take another hit off the pipe her friend was holding in front of her! Second, for creativity, we have to honor the use of a retractable cell phone antenna as a roach clip. Nice. Now, you kids remember to study hard and keep your rooms tidy.
Not everyone gets into the top business schools, you know.
A funny thing happened in show lineup karma Saturday night at Mercy Lounge. The guy who took the stage first all by himself (Dan Wilson) outdrew the main attraction (Kathleen Edwards) and her five-piece band by a couple dozen heads. And it wasn’t even that late when Edwards started her set. Wilson was doing his solo thing without Semisonic, and he came across like the world’s coolest, smartest and most musical kindergarten teacher, only for adults. He was all funny stories, patient shushing and immediately graspable pop melodies. The guy even worked a few Nashville miracles, actually quieting the club with his between-song anecdotes and coaxing everyone into singing along for two songs and whistling goofily during a third—the Semisonic hit “Closing Time.” Wilson insisted the song isn’t just about bars, but birth too. (We concede: The whole “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” thing works at 3 a.m. or in utero.) The room was still better than half-full when Edwards guided her all-male, Heartbreakers-esque band through songs from all three albums. They didn’t get too wild, except for some Colin Cripps guitar solos that turned it up a notch. Edwards made the crowd happy with her song choices, even flitting rapidly through a song just to deliver a line about bloody underwear. She kept warning the crowd that the real rocking out was about to happen, though it never really did, except for the Crazy Horse-ish energy of “Oh Canada.” She’s got gobs of great mid-tempo songs—we want more songs like that one.
We braved the persistent drizzle and nightmarish parking to see The New Pornographers at the Cannery Friday, finding ourselves amid a packed house at the tail end of Okkervil River’s set. The crowd was segregated into young scenesters with well-maintained hair and older “we party on the weekend with our expendable income” types, and there was a mass exodus of the former as The New Pornographers took the stage. The versatile and talented Neko Case was sidelined by a fractured ankle, but luckily, keyboardist Kathryn Calder was there to effortlessly perform female vocal parts—and it’s a good thing she and founding member A.C. Newman were so flawless, because little else was audible. The New Pornogs performed well and played a pretty eclectic mix of new and old material, but as is regrettably often the case at the Cannery, guitars and keyboards were washed out, while vocals and low-end were crystal clear. Still, the crowd was remarkably subdued despite having paid $25 a pop.
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