Last night I went to see The New Pornographers play a sold-out show at The Cat’s Cradle. It was the last show on this US tour, which started in Seattle on October 5. They played 10 “West Coast” shows, took two weeks off, then started a grueling span of 15 cities in 20 days. The tour ended in Carrboro last night, and they had The Pains of Being Pure at Heart with them the whole time. They’ll now take a few days off before starting a European tour followed by another North American tour in the new year. While some bands who are at the end of a tour have a tendency to sort of go through the motions for the last few shows, The Pains and The Pornos did anything but that. They both played very good sets and they certainly gave their all.
Towards the middle of the Pornos set, there was a problem with one person in the audience who wasn’t playing by the rules. Neko Case handled the situation without making things really awkward, and there’s a lesson that Mark Kozelek could learn. I’ll get to that after I rant a bit about a lesson that Sharon Van Etten could learn.
I recently saw Sharon Van Etten at the Cat’s Cradle, while she was near the end of her tour. I was very disappointed by her show and I sort of assumed that she was suffering from a severe case of tour fatigue and that she decided to mail it in. I’d seen her once before –after Tramp came out– and I remember that she played with as much enthusiasm as you might expect someone like Sharon Van Etten to display. She seemed really happy to be there and all that. This time, however, she looked like she wanted to be anywhere other than on that stage. Before her set was even over, I gave up on her and retreated to the back of the room to chat with the members of Tiny Ruins at the merch desk. She could stand to learn a thing or two from the New Pornographers about how to deal with exhaustion. I know the Pornos were tired, and I know the Pains were tired, but they certainly didn’t show it. The Pains even joked at one point during their set “We’re not tired”.
This was only my second time seeing the Pornos, and I enjoyed this show much more than the previous one. I saw them back in 2011 or so while they were touring in support of Together. That night, they played in an auditorium. A seated venue. There’s definitely a time for seated shows, and there are definitely bands who are suited for seated shows. The Pornos aren’t one of those bands. I liked their show and I had a great time, but I hated being in that auditorium. This time, they were back in the rock club where they belong.
Here’s where I get to the point. The point about Mark Kozelek.
Remember that whole mess with Kozelek’s band Sun Kil Moon at Hopscotch? The “All you fuckin’ hillbillies shut the fuck up!” Incident? I was there, and here’s what I wrote about it. The ball was rolling in the wrong direction from the get-go. The show should have been scheduled in one of the seated venues, but it was in a rock club. Because it was the end of the middle night, and because it was in a rock club, it was impossible for the audience to comply with Kozelek’s demands that we be quiet. SKM is perfect for a seated venue and terrible for a rock club. It’s just the opposite with the Pornos.
The Pornos actually made a request that wasn’t entirely dissimilar from Kozelek’s. They requested that we not make video recordings of any kind and not use flash photography. I initially misread the sign as “no photography of any kind”, which was the request that Kozelek made, and a request that some other bands routinely make. When I eventually understood the situation, I took a few photos, but none of them are any good.
I was in the second row of the standing room audience. About halfway through the set, there was a girl near me in the front row who had been using her phone to make a video, and she wasn’t being very discreet about it. During the middle of a song, Neko Case spotted the girl, and without breaking stride, she used the international hand signal for “cut that shit out”. She made the gesture several times, but kept singing. At the end of the song, she walked over to the girl, knelt down, grabbed the back of the girl’s head, pulled her close, and whispered something in her ear. It was close enough to me that I could tell that Neko had a pretty good grip on this girl’s hair. I don’t know exactly what Neko said, but I can assure you that she wasn’t asking for directions to the nearest Sheetz. She stood up, and said out loud “Don’t do that”. The whole exchange lasted not more than 10 seconds, and that was the end of it. Unless you were standing right there, you wouldn’t even have known that anything happened. Neko didn’t make a spectacle of it. She didn’t berate the girl from the microphone or bully her in any way. She didn’t pitch a fit, and she definitely didn’t insult or cuss at the audience. She handled it in a calm but firm fashion, and in way that only she and the girl know what was said. The good vibe in the room wasn’t disturbed in any way. A decidedly different approach to the “add fuel to the fire” method that Kozelek used. Things could have gone badly if Neko hadn’t kept her cool.
I was already enjoying the Pornos show, and that situation made me enjoy it so much more. Again, this is in stark contrast to the Kozelek situation where he acted like a pouting, petulant prima donna. The situations aren’t exactly analogous, but that’s not really the point. It’s about composure and a level of professionalism. Neko Case and The Pornos have it in spades. Kozelek does not. He could learn by taking a page from their book and a line from their page. But he probably won’t.