March 03, 2002

Noise Pop Tour Diary, Day 4

So it seems that every other night of Noise Pop is brilliant. Days 1 and 3 left me cold, but The Faint and kaitO on Day 2 were fantastic. This boded well for the John Doe and Neko Case collaboration on Day 4, and boy, did they ever deliver.

The support acts did, too, from time to time. We missed opener Paula Frazer, but caught both Virgil Shaw and the Court and Spark. Both bands treated us to a few transcendent moments of Americana, Shaw from an alt-country Tom Waits approach and the Court and Spark from a roots-rock Gram Parsons direction, and both bands were prevented from fully realizing their potential for similar reasons. Both acts were hampered by irrelevant instrumentation (especially the Court and Spark, whose four-piece horn section did little but distract us from what was going on) and the comings and goings of various personnel (in particular Shaw's bassist, who would disappear from time to time for no discernible reason).

But when Virgil Shaw bore down and quit trying to impress us with angsty vocal histrionics, and his band stayed put and rocked out, it all came together. Sadly, these moments were fewer and farther between than his audience would have liked. The Court and Spark, too, gave us glimpses of how it could be; if they stripped it down, maybe, ditched the horns and maybe even the pedal steel, it might rock a helluva lot harder. But what do I know? They're the ones up there playing at Noise Pop, and I'm the one sitting here at the computer writing about it.

Now John Doe and Neko Case (ably assisted on guitar and lap steel by some Canadian gentleman named Paul whose last name I didn't get), on the other hand — even when they were bad they were good. If John's between-song banter is reliable, then they had only rehearsed these songs for a day and a half. So there were some substellar moments of intonation, tuning, and phrasing, but in the context of the thing — a couple of near-legends sitting on chairs a few feet away from us, obviously having a great time — it never threatened to detract from the proceedings.

And when they were good? Oh boy, were they good. No one will ever confuse John Doe for a great singer, but he was blessed with an incredibly soulful, plaintive voice that clashed perfectly with Neko's perfect-pitch Peggy Lee pipes. Repertoire ranged from originals by Mr. Doe and Ms. Case, an old X number ("Burning House of Love"), and country classics. "Long Black Veil" was a tune that suited the duo perfectly, and promptly reduced many in the crowd to tears, your humble reporter included.

So if they were that good after a day and a half of practice, just imagine how good they'd be after, say, a week. Here's hoping this first-time collaboration wasn't a first and only.

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