Published Aug 17, 2016Even before they played the first notes of "Atomic Number," the crowd was cheering for Canadian-American super group case/lang/veirs at the Danforth Music Hall, on the first night (August 16) of two at the last stop of a too-short tour for the trio's self-titled debut (and probably one-off) album. "You sure know how to make the sister-wives feel welcome," quipped k.d. lang, the group's instigator and de facto spokesperson.
At first it seemed like case/lang/veirs were going to play their beautiful — but relatively sedate — album in its entirety, backed by very good four-piece band, and for the first chunk of the set, they did, each member alternating taking lead. lang's lounge-y girl-group song "Honey and Smoke" was followed by Laura Veirs' delicate "Song For Judee" (about Judee Sill) and Neko Case's psychedelic "Delirium," and so on.
But the group quickly strayed from that format, pairing the Veirs-led "Greens of June" (a verdant, tumbling, choral song about being pulled back from the edge of a cliff and saved by natural beauty) with Case's atmospheric "Down I-5," which conveyed a sense of parallax and was similarly about the landscape re-confirming your will to keep living. Case picked an awfully funny time to crack herself up here, starting the song by yelling, "Kick it!" to the by-turns fabulously sensitive and hard hitting drummer, and snickering at her own joke intermittently throughout the song. Fortunately, a little stumble here or there did nothing to detract from the performance — the entire show transcended perfection.
The case/lang/veirs recording saw the three songwriting greats working together, but the live performance also answered the question: Who are these three individuals and how would some of their solo songs work in this format? The answer is: incredibly well.
Veirs drew a couple songs from her summery 2010 LP July Flame, with the kickass title track's call-and-response, "Can I call you mine?" (directed at a certain variety of sweet summer peach, just out of reach) seemingly made for the collaboration. Case brought out a couple of her best songs ever, "Margaret vs. Pauline" and the incredible "Hold On, Hold On" (both from 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood), with the show's pianist duly filling Garth Hudson's ambling shoes.
If it wasn't so amicable and collaborative, you'd have sworn there was a spirit of one-upmanship at work, with lang leading a totally unique, re-worked (yet still recognizable) "Helpless," emphasis on "blue, blue windows" (in the masterfully sultry k.d. lang zone, blue is a key state) — a bold move, in a country full of Neil Young covers, but she more than pulled it off. In a lesser concert, this would've been the showstopper, but we were only at the halfway mark at that point.
lang was the crowd's darling, nearly making my friend cry on the torturously unrequited love song "Blue Fires" off the case/lang/veirs collab, and making folks laugh and dance (and approach the stage) on her own banjo tune "Sorrow Nevermore." ("The banjo," she said, "is a chick magnet.")
But then Case played "Man," off her most recent studio album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, with lang getting super into it and sharing the mic; this might have been the most rollicking version of this song ever. How was the folky Veirs going to follow it? Turns out, I underestimated her. Veirs followed chainsaw-y "Man" with a rocked up version of "Georgia Stars" that saw the songwriter headbanging, falling over and kicking her foot up in the air as lang jumped over mic stands.
I was worried the show was going to end there, without the case/lang/veirs sleeper hit, the deliciously happy tribute to the album's guitar player, "Best Kept Secret." But who was I kidding? Encore (number one) was (of course!) lang's hit, "Constant Craving," everyone up on their feet, everyone singing, the mellow "I Want To Be Here," and, of course, "Best Kept Secret."
Because we were all feeling so good, the trio came out, again, for encore number two: a rousing cover of Patti Smith's '80s anthem "People Have the Power."