Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Pornographers & Okkervil River @ 9:30 Club, DC [4/14/08]

This is normally the place where I would post a short review of last night's New Pornographers and Okkervil River show at the 9:30 Club here in DC. I'd also normally post a few pictures of varying quality.

Sadly, though, the most I can really say about last night's show is that it looked like it was pretty good. And folks who stood upstairs told me it was pretty good.

I, however, stood on the floor about 5 feet back from the stage near Blaine -- and I couldn't hear anything.

Well, "anything" is a bit much. I couldn't hear anything coming out of the PA. So I heard guitars. I heard bass. I heard the drums. But I could barely hear Carl's vocals, Katherine's vocals, or keyboards of any kind. It was a bit like listening to stereo headphones where one side isn't working. And it wasn't much better during Okkervil River's opening set, though admittedly they seem to be experimenting with a slightly different live sound with Charles Bissell in the band (almost a quasi-solo sound with Will's voice and acoustic high in the mix, and the rest of the band very low-key in the background).

I've heard from a ton of artists that they love playing the 9:30 Club. They're treated like kings by the 9:30 folks. That's awesome. And I can speak from experience that the staff inside the 9:30 are about as friendly and accommodating as any club I've ever been to.

But, after living here for 8 months and seeing a large number of shows at the 9:30, I can say in all seriousness that the audience experience at the 9:30 Club is terrible. I've mentioned before that the club often seems like it's way oversold, and you can barely find a place in the entire club to stand, let alone actually see the stage. And when you actually get there early, as I did last night, and get near the stage, you can't hear anything (I had an identical experience with the Spoon show last fall).

I'm not an expert on club design, but why can't they position at least one PA towards the center of the floor? I've been to many, many rock clubs in the U.S. and abroad and have never had an experience where I couldn't hear half of what was being played standing 5 feet from the stage.

Anyway, as I said, it sure looked like the bands were giving it their all. I love both of them and I'll see them again. But just not from the floor at the 9:30 Club.

Postscript: I left two things out. First, there was a strict "no photography" rule in effect last night, so that's why there are no photos. Second, there's a lot of hubbub around the net about the fact that Neko Case bailed out on last night's set due to illness. Big deal. The band tours without her all the time, and they're great with or without her. Kathryn may not be Neko, but she's a hell of a singer. Just wish I could have heard her better.


At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neko Case is the glue that holds that band together. She was there last night(15th) and, along with the rest of the band, was fantastic. I've seen the NP's with and without her and there really is no comparison. While Kathryn does have a sweet voice, it lacks the size and power of Neko's.

And, as for the 9:30 Club experience, I'm sad you feel that way. I've been going there for shows for the last 10 years and have been pleased every time.

At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got to the show a little after Okkervill started so I was standing near the back. I thought the sound was fine during their set but yeah the sound during the NP's set was really bad. Neko had some sound problems too through the first 3 songs. She kept shaking her head and gesturing to the sound guys. I've seen Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis at the 9:30 in the last year and their sound was great so this is the first time i've ever really noticed a problem.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Steve said...

The more people I hear from on this the more I'm convinced that there are two issues at play here.

First, every band's setup is different (obviously), and some tour with their own sound people, so there's going to be a difference in sound from show to show. I have, admittedly, seen numerous shows at the 9:30 Club where I thought the sound was great.

And it seems from what folks who were in different spots around the club have told me that, while the sound for the New Pornographers was better elsewhere, the volume was still pretty low. I'm guessing that was the band's choice in how to present its sound, but I could be wrong.

Second, and more importantly to me, is that the 9:30 doesn't compensate at all with its PA for the artists' setup. This was pretty obvious to me the other night and at last fall's Spoon show. Where the band does not have either the equipment on stage or the sound setup to reach people in front of the stage, there is no PA aimed at those people to pick up the slack. So you're left, like I was, straining to hear vocals from the PAs which were pointed away from me.

To its credit, the 9:30 Club seems to give its artists a lot of control over their own sound. But there's such a thing as being too "hands off", and not taking steps to ensure that the band's choice doesn't leave out an entire portion of the audience from being able to hear the music...

Just my two cents.


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