It's a rare and moving occurrence when a live show can cause a seated audience to randomly leap to its feet (especially in the formal, opulent confines of the Paramount), let alone burst into tears, but many audience members at last Sunday's Neko Case/Merle Haggard show did just that, myself included. Thanks to an introduction by Epitaph label president Andy Kaulkin, the maverick icon and the alt-country sweetheart paired up for four West Coast shows in Oakland, Portland, Spokane, and Seattle.
Along with a sizable number of older fans, plenty of our city's younger music biz peeps were in the house, including War Room owner Marcus Lalario, booking agents Chad Queirolo and Scott Giam-pino, and KEXP DJ Greg Vandy. Watching the generation gap in action was entertaining in itself (overheard in line at the box office from an elderly gentlemen wearing a belt buckle forged in the shape of Texas: "Who is this Neko Case guy? Is he local?"), and Merle's merch selection was pretty over-the-top (nearly all his CDs were sold-out, yet 16 variants on logo-embossed trucker caps remained), but it was the performances that made it feel like a unique and historical event.
Case was as elegant as always, clad in an elaborately embroidered black frock and precariously poised in her strappy high heels. Her voice remains a simply undeniable force, mixing smoky seduction with a powerhouse, clarion delivery. The closing number, a sultry cover of Sarah Vaughan's "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)," was the perfect end note and a reminder of why the witty, whip-smart redhead can justly be considered this generation's Patsy Cline.
Mr. Haggard turns 70 this year, and perhaps the opportunities to see him live are dwindling rapidly. But he certainly gave his fans exactly what they wanted: almost two hours of nearly flawless renditions of his hits, and a handful of songs from his newer releases on Epitaph. Accompanied by a smartly dressed, nine-piece band and one silver-throated female backing vocalist, he launched his set with "The Bottle Let Me Down," and wheeled his way through the highlights of his back catalog, including "White Line Fever," "Mama Tried," and a high-spirited cover of Johnny Cash's "Jackson." Things took a bit of a sideways turn when he brought up the subject of Hillary Clinton's White House bid, a topic the slightly conservative crowd greeted with a disorienting conflation of cheers and jeers. His recent tendency to lean left quieted everyone down, however, when he launched into a new song, presumably titled "Let's Put a Woman in Charge." Political proclivities aside, Haggard was always attentive to, and appreciative of his audience, eventually telling the starry-eyed crowd, "I've enjoyed working for you, ladies and gentlemen—see you next time," and bringing down the curtain down with "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink."
Taking that last song titleliterally, I headed up the street for a cocktail, and to check out the War Room's new Sunday night, Slow Ride, a cover-free evening of carefully edited classic rock spun by DJ Cherry Canoe and an assortment of rotating sidekicks. It was a bit quiet when I dropped in, but the laid-back energy seems perfectly in line with promoter David Richey's supposed intention:to make it an inviting industry night for bar employees and other night owls who don't make it out on Friday or Saturday.
In other War Room news, last Friday marked the final night for Cherry, the dance night "for lesbians and their friends" that had been spearheaded by DJs Colby B, Amateur Youth, Wasabi, and Jordan Catalano (quite possibly the best DJ name ever, incidentally). Happily, the party will move to the Re-bar next month, and a similar vibe will be continued at the Hot Mess Anniversary this week with guest DJ Cazell and additional sets by DJs Julie Herrera, L.A. Kendall, and the ubiquitous Colby B.
Lastly, should you want to catch a set by yours truly, please tune into 90.3 KEXP this Saturday at 6 p.m., when I'll make my debut as a new host for the Northwest's longest running local music show, Audioasis.