Nekoquest 2009, Vol. 1: Middle Cyclone

Neko PosterIn late February, an alarming bulletin appeared on my MySpace homepage. A MySpace “Secret Show” was to be held the following Tuesday, March 3, in San Diego. The performer? Neko Case. A free show, at a tiny club—first come, first served.

“It was so clear to me that it was almost invisible”

I love Neko Case, as you know. I’d never seen her perform live solo (though she was amazing when I saw her with the New Pornographers—still the best concert I’ve been to). What else could I do? I wasn’t going to miss this chance.

Most people, unlike me, have real jobs. This left slim pickings for my choice of companions on this adventure. Luckily my pal RC is a photographer1, not a real jobber. He didn’t hate Neko, but he wasn’t a huge fan. But he agreed to accompany me. Plus, he brought along some perks: a car with an iPod hookup and a friend in San Diego to stay with.2 So, when it comes to pickings, you can do slimmer than RC.3

“Can’t scrape together quite enough / to ride the bus to the outskirts of / the fact that I need love”

Monday afternoon, we set out. Trading driving duties, and with only a few brief stops for food and underwear4, we soon found ourselves on the streets of downtown San Diego.

RC’s friend Dani San Diego5 lives southeast of and higher up than downtown, in the Bankers Hill neighborhood (named after settlers who lived near a riverbank, I assume). Her efficiency apartment is part of a tiny old building, which I would describe in architectural terms, if I knew any. But it was cool, nestled between office buildings in the mixed-use, big-city style I like so much.

It was pretty late, so we got ready for bed.

“I miss how you’d sigh yourself to sleep / when I’d rake the springtime across your sheets”

Middle Cyclone cover

I had pre-ordered the new Neko album, which was coming out the following day (the day of the show), from Amazon. As I lay on the bed in San Diego, some UPS truck was probably driving through the night to deliver the CD to my home in Fresno. I decided this was unacceptable.

Hopping on someone’s open wifi network with my iPod touch, I waited for the minute hand to swing past 12. It was Tuesday morning, Middle Cyclone appeared in the iTunes store, and I bought it. I fell asleep to Neko’s brand-new soul-peircing music.6

“The sistine chapel, painted with a gatling gun”

We woke at 8am. With no idea what kind of competition we’d face in line, we figured it was better to play it safe.

neko1.jpg

The Casbah is a small club. On a corner near the airport, it’s flanked by the I-5 to the East and many square-miles of parking garages to the West.

When RC and I drove by at 9am, no one was there except a homeless man sitting on the ledge out front. We decided to get breakfast (for us; not the homeless man).

We drove by again at 10am. Two more bums, but no line. Since breakfast had gone so well, we decided to go to Old Town San Diego7 for lunch. And by “lunch”, of course I mean “margaritas”.8 Dani San Diego joined us for that.

We went somewhere that had something to do with coyotes. I think they used coyote meat like the original Californians or something. Anyway.

DSD and her margarita pequeña

We also had a little Mexican food.

14-17-38 DSC_2545.jpg

It was a fun grande time, but it was getting late. I’m talkin’, past 1pm late. So we said our adioses and headed back to the Casbah (DSD couldn’t come to the show with us because she had to volunteer to teach kids how to not shoot each other or something dumb like that; plus she’d already used the epilepsy excuse once that week). By then, the bums had been replaced by a few nerds sitting in line like losers. We quickly parked and joined them. We were around the fifteenth persons in line.

“Yes, there are things that I’m still so afraid of,
but my courage is roaring like the sound of the sun”

Next came a lot of waiting, which was boring so I will use my writerly skills to make it seem interesting.

Line sidewalk cars. Sun, sun, burning, sun? Burning face! Sidewalk, growing line. Wait. Wristbands at 3? Twitter twitter twitter. Hour one. Sidewalk sun wait. Airplane airplane up! Wait. Maybe 200 people in line. Sidewalk down the block! Pfft. Ker-ulllp!

That’s when they started handing out wristbands, around 3:30. Return at 7 for the show.

RC and me, we got our wrist-shaped golden tickets and proceeded down the road to the local tavern. This is where RC introduced me to John Bonham—the long-dead and legendary drummer of rock-and-roll band Led Zeppelin—who has apparently been reincarnated as a made-up combo-cocktail of sorts, consisting of a shot of Jack followed by a bottle of Budweiser. What I’m trying to say is, we drank a shot of whiskey and a bottle of beer, see? Apparently when RC lived in Hollywood that’s what all the hookers drank, so it was considered “cool”, in quotation marks.

Then we had a couple more of those.

Then we were ready…

To stand in line some more. Around 6pm we returned to the line, this time scoring the eighth and ninth spots. The sun had sunk below the parking garages and a faint breeze occasionally blew past from, presumably, the ocean. We were less than an hour away from my dream cum laude.

An hour and a half later, the doors were opened, our hands were stamped, and we scampered like monstrous, deformed schoolgirls into the Casbah, down the short hallway and around the corner to the stage.

The Casbah is small. The main room contains a bar running the length of one wall, a 12-inch high stage in the opposite corner, and enough room to cram—crotch-to-ass—about 200 music nerd-snobs. So we crammed. Having staked our prime real estate behind two short girls directly in front of the stage, RC and I elected to forego drinks so we could protect our claim. And it’s a good thing we did.

Unlike a typical show where you wait half an hour past the start time for the opener to take the stage, then an hour after they finish for the headliner, this was far more guerilla.

Within ten minutes of everyone entering the building, Neko and her band were shuffled through the crowd and onto the tiny stage.

“My love, I am the speed of sound / I left them motherless, fatherless / Their souls dangling inside-out from their mouths / But it’s never enough”

Then she sang.

And, well, I don’t really know how to describe it. If I hadn’t been standing six feet away I wouldn’t have believed it. She was perfect. She sounded better than the records: every note bursting forth in sonic waves precisely tuned to eff the ineffable.

Neko singing to me and RC

Her band was spot on. But honestly, except for a couple particularly brain-melting riffs on the slide guitar, I was only listening to her voice—either by itself or making aural love to Kelly Hogan’s harmonies.

They played a nice assortment of older stuff from Blacklisted and Fox Confessor (nothing from Furnace Room Lullaby though). “Deep Red Bells” included the aforementioned brain-melting. “I Wish I Was the Moon Tonight” made me forget all about the subjunctive mood. “Hold On, Hold On” was fantastic, as expected.

But the real highlights were from the new album. The whirling melodies of set opener “This Tornado Loves You” lifted me off the ground (figuratively). Title track “Middle Cyclone” has already eclipsed “I Wish I Was the Moon” as my go-to cry-into-my-pillow song. The newer songs brought better banter too: “This is a song about gettin’ down,” she says with a smirk. “It’s about basic needs” (“I’m an Animal”). The Harry Nilsson cover “Don’t Forget Me” spurred Hogan into a mini-solioquy listing anti-anxiety medications and they’re generic equivalents (which also make Who’s the Boss? funny, apparently).

RC and me absorbing undiluted magnificence

There was so much to absorb, in such a small space, in such a small amount of time. Despite the awesome (literally) talent in front of me—almost within arms’ reach (literally)—I wasn’t as affected as I thought I’d be. Standing in front of everyone else in the audience, only hearing their cheers muffled by the low ceiling, I wasn’t able to draw on their energy as I have at past concerts where the audience and performer become some kind of symbiotic organism, feeding each other. Fueling each other. I suppose that’s the tradeoff when you see one of the world’s most talented and dynamic singers in a space the size of a large living room.9

In any case, the show was better than 90% of the music you’ll see live this year. Guaranteed.

Plus, we got free posters.

“Someone made a fool of me / ‘fore I could show ’em how it’s done”

After an amazing show, RC and I met up again with Dani San Diego and went to some weird art bar where we sipped some more John Bonhams and Rumple Minze shots while watching painters paint and DJ Skullcrusher crush skulls, DJ. I proposed marriage to our waitress, as I tend to. She said no, but thanked me for the offer. Clearly, I had a very good time:

Conlan at the end of a fun-filled night!

The following morning we ate breakfast. It wasn’t very exciting. Then RC and I said goodbye to San Diego and her inhabitants, and Dani San Diego and her inhabitants10, then headed north. Toward home.

All in all: a pretty damn successful trip, if you ask me. And you reading my blog is an implicit asking of me, so there you go.

DSD, RC, and me

As a postscript, Ryan—who, as you’ll recall, had been lukewarm about Neko before the show—fell in such love with her that we are already planning Nekoquest 2009, Vol. 2…

But I’m getting a head of myself.

Getting a head of myself
  1. Note: Photographs in this post come from a variety of sources, including but not limited to: RCJones Photography, MySpace Secret Shows MySpace page, Amazon.com, and me. []
  2. Top 3 all-time best uses of a broken ankle. []
  3. This is a compliment. If you are confused, try drawing a diagram. []
  4. Easier than doing laundry. []
  5. Very cool chick, and a D-List celebrity, I think. []
  6. And I’ve been listening to it non-stop since. []
  7. “The Birthplace of California™” []
  8. “When in Rome…” []
  9. See postscript. []
  10. Bacteria in the intestines that help digest food, etc. []