Live Review: Son Ambulance, Good Life/Feist; Latitude Longitude tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:41 pm July 14, 2008

Son Ambulance drew a respectable-sized crowd Friday night despite competing with a Conor Oberst/Good Life concert at The Barley St. It didn’t matter that I was standing at the bar at Slowdown at 11 p.m. People still kept coming up, asking if I was going to the Barley St. to see that show. “Well no, I’m here,” I’d say. “I mean, hasn’t it already started?” It probably had, but that wasn’t going to stop people from leaving halfway through to drive cross-town to see Kasher and Co. perform the day before he was going to perform again. I hadn’t known that Oberst was going to play an opening set, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The Barley St. is hot and packed on any typical weekend for bands that you and I have never heard of. I could only imagine what it would have been like Friday night, especially at 11 p.m. Though it hadn’t officially sold out, there had to be a line, and if I’d gone I’d have ended up missing Son Ambulance and The Good Life (That said, I have used my size and demeanor to bully through lines at Sokol before — stoned indie kids always move out of the way assuming that I’m either a Sokol employee or a cop or an angry parent looking for his daughter. That wouldn’t work at The Barley St.).

I managed to catch only one song of Jennifer O’Connor’s solo acoustic performance and was distracted the entire time trying to get a beer. O’Connor, who records on Matador, is a super-talented singer/songwriter, and Son Ambulance told me they felt lucky to be touring with her. Later, I found myself talking to her outside between sets, not realizing who she was until someone came up and congratulated her on her performance — a very sweet, funny young lady.

Son Ambulance came on at around 11:15 and sounded great. The band’s secret weapon is saxophonist James Cuato — just an amazing horn player. Cuato, however, doesn’t stop with the saxophone. He switched instruments throughout the set — actually, throughout songs. There’s Cuato starting off with a blazing tenor line, dropping the sax to pick up tiny bell mallets, picking up a flute before strapping on a guitar. On and on. He played at least a half-dozen different instruments, but his strength is his sax playing, which adds a whole new, earthy dimension to Son Ambulance.

Joe’s voice never sounded better, but what stood out most during the set were the arrangements. I’ve been listening to their new CD heavily for the past few weeks, so when the band decided to stray from the record, it could be a bit jarring. Some of the shifts were due to necessity — there was no other way to recreate the music that had painstakingly been created in the studio. But other times the changes were purely decisions by Joe and the band, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, and would probably go unnoticed by those who haven’t been living with the CD. Their arrangement of album centerpiece “Yesterday Morning” (played as an encore) was the most noticeable in that Joe curiously changed the vocal lines in a few spots, leaving me wanting to hear them the way they sounded on the record. Chatting with the band afterward, it sounds like no two nights of this tour will be the same, as the band will constantly be trying different ideas. It should make for a fun tour. I’d like to hear them play again after it’s over to see what comes out the other side.

Saturday was Feist in the park. I had planned on swinging down there at around 7:30, and then it dawned on me as I was watching news coverage on Channel 7 — a live shot at around 6 showed a mostly empty field behind the reporter who said the music was about to start. “The openers include a local band called The Good Life.” A local band called The Good Life? Of course, that made sense. The people organizing the concert had no idea that Kasher and his crew are one of the more respected indie bands on the circuit these days. To them, The Good Life was just another local band that probably played every weekend at one of the many clubs around town…which meant that they’d play first instead of right before Feist. I hadn’t thought of that.

The band was well into their set by the time we got down there and found a spot along the ridge of the bowl. Here are my notes from the show, taken on my iPhone:

Crowd looks like around 3,500. The weather is perfect. The sound is great. The Good Life is playing “You Don’t Feel Like Home to Me.” The guy next to me has no idea who the band is, nor does he care.

Kasher is a speck from my position up on the hill under a tree. Probably 1,000 people are crushed in front of the stage. Kasher stands out in his green pants. Mr. Green Jeans. He’s trying to get the crowd into Obama, admitting that he knows that Obama isn’t going to take Nebraska this November, asking how great it would be if CNN could report incredulously how strong the democratic vote had been in Omaha, in the heart of a staunchly conservative state. I have a feeling Mr. Kasher is going to be disappointed.

Their set ends at 7 with “The first time that I met her I was throwing up in the ladies’ room stall.” The crowd is pleasantly appreciative, even though no one knows who they are. People around me clap aimlessly while they watch their kids play in the grass.

The “Argentinean sensation” doesn’t go on for almost an hour. I enjoy some delicious $6 nachos. When she does finally come on, she’s doing a solo acoustic world music thing that’s somewhat boring and monotonous and is going on way too long. People are restless.

By 8:30 there’s about 5,000 people half-filling the bowl. It’s another long, tedious hour before Feist finally comes on in pitch darkness singing a cappella from behind a screen — just her silhouette can be seen. Is she nude, wearing only a hat? We should be so lucky.

The guy next to me who never heard of The Good Life comments: “She sounds just like the Argentinean chick.”

She gets to “Mushaboom” third in the set. We have a bet going as to when she’ll do the Apple commercial. I say she’ll wait until the encore. Others say sometime after the fifth song. One guy says it’ll be late in the set.

We’re already on the sixth song and I realize just how sleepy Feist’s music can be. The guy who said “late in the set” knew what he was talking about. Once she sings that song, there will be an audible roar of lawn chairs folding up throughout the bowl. It’s already almost 10 p.m. and the lightning bugs and skeeters and annoying multicolor light sticks are out in force.

Feist’s voice, while good, doesn’t really stand out to me. There are times when she sounds like Ricki Lee Jones, and other times when she reminds me of Karen Carpenter (but no one sounds like Karen Carpenter really, no one ever could). Her knack is for writing kicky little anonymous pop songs, cute and inoffensive.

The crowd is respectful. Clearly those around me have never heard of Feist but the weather’s so nice, why not spend the night in the park? I can’t help but imagine what this scene would be like if instead of Feist, the concert would have been someone like The Pretenders (circa 1984). While Feist is a huge improvement over Plain White T’s, I have to wonder just how well she’d do if she played at Sokol Auditorium. Hell, she might have a hard time even selling out Slowdown for that matter. The city needs to find a common ground between shitty oldster bands like .38 Special and bands that also appeal to a younger crowd. Seriously, who doesn’t love The Pretenders?

The prettiest song so far is the one sang only with a guitar. After 10 songs I lost count of where we are in the set. Strange. as the night gets darker, the field seems to get brighter, thanks to a glowing 3/4 moon. There’s not an ounce of wind, but it’s still getting cold.

She’s finally singing it at 10:08. Time to go…

We folded up our lawn chairs and listened to Feist and her band as we walked back home down J.E. George Blvd. The plan had been for the concert to end by 10:30 so that the rangers could get people out of there by 11 (when the park officially closes). But I could still hear the concert going strong standing in my back yard watching the dog pee at 10:45. According to the OWH, the show didn’t wrap up until almost 11. “Fahey spokesman Joe Gudenrath estimated attendance at 20,000,” the article said. “He said it was the largest crowd to attend the city-organized concert since 2004, when the band 311 drew an estimated 25,000 to 30,000.”

Joe apparently forgot how big that 311 show really was — not only was the bowl filled, but so was the field on the south side of the bowl. Feist, on the other hand, didn’t come close to filling the bowl. You could walk within a hundred feet of the stage. Others I asked agreed that the crowd probably stood at around 5,000.

As a testimonial to how good our seats were — that couple in the central photo on the cover of the Midlands section of Sunday’s OWH — seen in silhouette seated in the lawn chairs — is Teresa and me. It may be the only time you’ll see a my photo in print — even from behind I’m recognizable by my gigantic, melon-sized head.

* * *

It has been ages since I’ve seen Latitude Longitude. They’re playing tonight, opening for Film School at Slowdown Jr. $8, 9 p.m.

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