Now that's what I call a Good Friday!
The Variety Playhouse was packed early Friday night, as most people arrived at the show early to catch Kelly Hogan's return to Atlanta. She and her band of pirates (her words not mind) didn't disappoint. She has a marvelous voice, which she used to good effect, variously singing very traditional americana and what I would call somewhat jazzy and smooth numbers. And the crowd lapped it up. She played a short set, but still had a surprise up her sleeve to close it out. On her final number, Neko Case joined her, mostly to dance with her during instrumentals and hang out--that is until the last verse, where she took over and belted it out. All in all, the set was a very nice appetizer.
Next up, The High Dials, yet another band from Montreal. Before Friday, I'd read about this band a fair bit, but hadn't summoned the energy to check them out. After seeing them live, I probably should have taken the time to do so. This five-piece band brings a very pop-oriented sound, but not obsessively so. Their sound was certainly a contrast to Kelly Hogan's and Neko Case's, but that's probably for the best. Their music was aimed straight into my wheelhouse, good, basic, smart guitar music with backing harmonies. Their set was marred a bit because of some bad mixing. The lead guitar seemed to be a bit too quiet, and the music seemed to lack a bit of the bite that I thought it was supposed to have (subsequent listening to samples on Saturday confirmed this). They played a solid half-hour set, closing with a song that featured a Sitar (Ravi Shankar!). I feared the song would be too hippie-dippy for my taste, but it was used to good effect.
Finally, what can I say about Neko Case that hasn't been repeated over and over and over again. She simply has the best voice I think I could even imagine, and she knows how to use it. By the time she started, the Variety was as full as I have ever seen it. And unlike her last show, she didn't have a cold. She played for about an hour and forty-five minutes before an entirely mesmerized audience, including two encores. In between the "boner" jokes and some playful back and forth with Kelly Hogan (who joined her as a backup singer), she played material from her entire opus, not focusing entirely on her new songs from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.
She set the tone early in the set, by singing "Favorite", to the crowd's great delight. Of the new tunes, she features, "Star Witness", "Magarite vs. Pauline", and "A Widow's Toast". All the songs were outstanding, but I think my favorite of the evening was the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger" during the first encore. Singing a song that both Johnny Cash and Tony Rice have made their own and go toe to toe with them says something.
Memo to Nashville. Here's the next Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn. She simply has the best voice for good, traditional country music of anyone out there. Why the hell aren't you paying attention.
If anyone out there wants a sample of what I heard Friday night, Kwaya Na Kisser has a collection of live mp3s from NPR's All Songs Considered, which broadcast her show in Washington D.C. If you don't know Neko's music, this is a great place to start.
Sorry for the lack of photos, since they weren't allowed during the show (and I chose to respect that).
NP: "Thinking of Ways" - The Boo Radleys