Night One (9/23/08):
The Beachland is a large, old, Polish social hall complete with murals on the walls and a dirty golden curtain at the back of the elevated stage. There is no great line of sight for onlookers, so a sold out crowd means people stuffed together edging for a view in stuffy heat. While the crowd was uncomfortable, the talkative Neko Case enjoyed herself, often praising Cleveland and the Beachland. Fulfilling expectations, she played the roles of lead beauty, experienced rocker, and delicate songstress.
Having not released a new album since 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, an appearance by Case is strange. While the set consisted mostly of selections from Fox, the night also revealed songs from her forthcoming record, which she said would be released in March. Wrong notes and an admittedly lax work ethic gave every reason for one to believe that the March date is tentative. The new songs were less experimental, but contained the traditional powerful vocals and twangy, off-kilter western musical backdrop that Case has successfully cultivated. So, the night was perhaps more of a trial run than an intentional album-supporting gig. Case laughed her way through a new number, unable to keep her composure due to Jon Rauhouse’s bewildered reaction to hitting the wrong notes. “Jon” Case said “has the look on his face of a dog when he wakes himself up with his own farts.”
Often, complaints of literary singer/songwriters consist of vocal dominance with musicianship that falls short of being equally worthwhile. Live however, it was clear throughout that Case’s supporting band is equally talented. Unfortuanetly, the sold out crowd had mixed enthusiasm. Case’s work is the kind that one can easily sing along to, yet few in the audience obliged. Close quarters meant limited mobility and instant loss of place if one wanted to go to the bathroom or get a drink. The general positive vibe that usually makes up for the feeling of being jammed together, was absent and the crowd was large and not cohesive.
Attached to the large ballroom of Beachland is the tavern. It is a much more intimate venue, where one can imagine old Polish men discussing labor unions and unhappy marriages over a can of Schlitz. No murals or curtains, just a stage in front of the bathrooms and a history of beer advertising hung all around. I arrived to see local openers State Bird. They were a jam band with emo-influences that decided to cut their songs down from ten minutes to an acceptable pop-length. Conversation between the two lead singers was awkward, and the drummer had one beat down pat. They were musically talented, with little imagination. The imagination came from a band out of Norman, Oklahoma.
As fans of State Bird wandered off and drove back to Berea, all in the tavern were seated comfortably. Green light filled the stage, along with the Evangelicals. Gloomy and catchy, they played like a Super Furry Animals influenced more by the Cure and Grandaddy (or maybe radiohead) than Pink Floyd and the Beatles. While slipping elusively between heavy guitar riffs and synth beats, singer Josh Jones’ eerie tenor added a depth of spacey horror. Sticking mainly to songs off of their less experimental 2008 Dead Oceans release The Evening Descends, the Evangelicals were convincingly powerful. Extensively touring, to undoubtedly large and more enthusiastic audiences, there was no detectable sense of slacking. While there was no encore, and the show ended with energy of commencement rather than conclusion, it would have been difficult for the few separate souls to muster the required togetherness to cheer for an additional performance.
The night before, in a sold out ballroom Neko Case began her encore with an upbeat version of Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” before the streets outside became clogged. The next night, in the near empty tavern, a collection of random fulfilled folks disassembled after listening to Evangelicals – some drinking, some going home.