I started out the night at The Church at the Waiting Room. Even though they are a favorite band of mine and they sounded fantastic (as did the room), my plan was to head to The Slowdown to see Ethel Cain. The appeal of seeing an artist that may define the next couple of decades of pop music won out over nostalgia, even though the current The Church album The Hypnogogue is a great listen.
Ethel Cain has just one album out, entitled The Preachers Daughter, from last year. The album is critically acclaimed across the board, and she has developed a quick cult following that is growing at a rapid pace. When this show was announced, it came as a shock to many, including me. Cain is headlining multiple nights in 1500+ capacity theaters currently, and logically, a club show in Nebraska doesn’t make sense. Except for one thing. Cain is a bit obsessed with Nebraska. Cain’s music is indie pop and dream pop, but also very Southern Gothic in vibe. There’s a lot of Christian and religious overtones to the music. She has a powerful song called “House in Nebraska,” which is one of her big songs. It first came out about five years ago, so it has been with her for much of her music career. She has visited Nebraska and filmed some video here, but it doesn’t seem like she has spent much time here. It’s almost like Nebraska is an idea to her. She stated at the end of the show, ‘I forced my people and said I am going to Nebraska this year and playing music. I am so sorry, I am just weirdly obsessed with Nebraska.’
I walked into The Slowdown after the opening act, Midwife, had performed. This show sold out in a matter of minutes when it went on sale. Fans started lining up yesterday morning at 4 a.m.When I walked in, Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” was playing through the house system as I surveyed probably the most solid mass I have seen at Slowdown. Normally people spread out at sold-out Slowdown shows, but this crowd was going to either be in the lower bowl part or along the edge. From what I could see and hear, this was also a respectful crowd of young people. I will take the crowd at a young person’s show over an older person’s show any day. Much less talking, surprisingly fewer phones in the air filming, and less entitlement. Ethel Cain took the stage with a drummer and a guitarist. Some of the music would be tracks, which is not unusual for pop artists. The guitarist was wearing a shirt from the Nebraska band Cursive.
The crowd, of course, went nuts, and Cain’s gorgeous and strong vocals took hold and immediately mezmerized. She is a performer with a presence, and her songs performed live are captivating. She would get down on the stage and sing directly to concertgoers and hold their hands while singing, almost as a way to let them know that they were accepted and that they mattered. There is a very motherly vibe between her and the audience. There were boxes set up, I was told, to collect gifts early in the night so they wouldn’t clutter the stage, but some gifts were handed to her, which she graciously accepted. She did the song we were all waiting for, “A House in Nebraska,” third in the set, which was surprising, and asked the crowd to sing as loud as they could, and the crowd did. It was an incredible moment and one of those very rare musical sparks that go above and beyond the usual show. It’s a pretty long song, too, and that moment held through the whole thing. At the end, in a perfect timing moment, a fan handed her a camouflage Husker hat, which was placed on the microphone stand just as the song ended. That couldn’t have been planned better. She would perform for about sixty minutes, holding our rapt attention the entire time.
There was a point in the night where she said the song was going to have a little country vibe to it and asked everyone to give a big Cornhusker yee-haw. She also tipped her hat to Lady Gaga at one point as inspiration for the song and then repeated the line from “You and I,” saying, ‘It’s my daddy and Nebraska and Jesus Christ’. For me, the highlight was the song “Sun Bleached Flies,” which is such a strong song lyrically and my favorite on the album, and it delivered live. I predict that Cain will be going onto much bigger things very soon, and even if she stays at this level, seeing her perform at The Slowdown was a special treat and one that those kids won’t forget anytime soon, nor will I. Hopefully the shine of Nebraska stays with her and she visits again.