Live Review: case/lang/veirs with Andy Shauf at Woodland Park Zoo 6/30/16

Live Reviews
Jacob Webb
photos by Matthew B. Thompson (view set)

Anyone who's seen the video where a meteor falls during a Modest Mouse show while they're playing "Dark Center of the Universe" knows that it was a perfect synchronization of life and music, coincidental or not. And while there's no footage of it – yet – let it be known that case/lang/veirs summoned an eagle during their show at the Woodland Park Zoo. To be fair, seeing an eagle at a zoo is not that remarkable, but seeing an eagle emerge while the famously animal-loving Neko Case is playing? Pure magic. (Case herself was charmed: "See that eagle? We're very patriotic," she deadpanned, grinning at her Canadian bandmate Lang.) But just as fortuitous and potent of a combination was the unit onstage, three journeywoman songwriters and singular singers in their own right who came together to make a stellar, cohesive LP that draws from each artist in an egalitarian manner to add up to a sum of its considerable parts, and on a sunny June evening, a performance that did the same.

Preceding the headliners' charismatic performance, Andy Shauf began the evening with a set of songs detailing a different set of vibrant characters. His latest LP, The Party, is a set of wallflower vignettes and sketches observed from the corner of the titular event, and his understated presence and performance was a sharp contrast to the booming voices and personalities that would follow him. However, just as his album takes its focus from the little details in a busy scenario, Shauf's greatest strengths stood out to those who dialed into to the minutiae of his set. Roughly half an hour later, however, the three voices onstage brought their intricacies to the forefront with seemingly little effort during the opening number "Atomic Number". It would be quite easy – and not entirely inappropriate – to dedicate another 300 words to describing the quality of the trio's voices, but in consideration of this review's wordcount, I'll merely say that Neko Case and k.d. Lang's voices are national treasures to their respective countries, and while Laura Veirs may not have the same profile as her bandmates, the Portland, Oregon songwriter's role never once seemed any lesser than her vocal partners.

Much like the balanced roles all three artists have on the album they were promoting, the egalitarian nature of their partnership carried through the performance, with lead vocal duties being split evenly between the singers, and furthermore across the songs' tones. For every poignant, quieter track sung by one of the singers, there would be a more upbeat tune to balance it. Some of the tracks on case/lang/veirs rank among each artist's most immediate work ("Best Kept Secret", "Delirium", "Honey and Smoke"), but for those that didn't know the recently-released record, the group pulled from their back catalogs for roughly a quarter of the set, selecting songs that played to the vocal muscle that they don't necessarily have on their usual tours (Veirs' "July Flame", Case's "Hold On, Hold On", and with an assist from the crowd, lang's "Constant Craving"). When they began a cover of Patti Smith's "People Have The Power" towards the end of the set, the image of the three distinct personalities – the casual, conversational Veirs, the charming, radiant lang, and the sly, quipping Case – stood as the night's perfect closing note as the sun began to set across the Woodland Park Zoo (which has surprisingly good acoustics for an outdoor venue).

In a way, it's surprising that case/lang/veirs work as well as they do. On paper, having three distinct, incredibly talented songwriters and singers in one unit holds plenty of promise, just like the idea of Zlatan Ibrahimović going to join twenty other soccer superstars at FC Barcelona or creating a restaurant menu centered around bacon or Dr. Dre returning to produce the majority of an Eminem comeback album. However, as the latter three examples prove, these fantasy football-like don't always work out in practice with half the results one would hope to see. But here are three artists who not only complement each other while taking turns as the lead, but also genuinely seem to be excited to be in each other's company. case/lang/veirs could very well be a one-off, but if it does, all three artists should take pride knowing that they made something that is both outstanding and unique to all of its creators' catalogs.

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