Neko Case: Live Last Night


Live Last Night

Neko Case's once-in-a-generation set of pipes seems to strike audiences dumb. At her enjoyable if schizophrenic gig at the 9:30 club last night, the capacity crowd was on its best behavior -- you've never heard the place so silent as when Case sparked off the relative oldie "I Wish I Was the Moon."

The tune hails from "Blacklisted" -- the 2002 album on which Case's songbook set its present course away from country (alt- or otherwise), venturing ever deeper into the Tom Waits-y, David Lynch-ian realm of the surreal and animalistic. From that point in her catalogue on, imagery of car crashes, predators both human and animal, and very bad weather abounds. Almost the entire set was culled from Case's more recent work; more than half of it from her month-old "Middle Cyclone" album, which gives her haunted imaginings their fullest, most distinct expression yet.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Amid all this spectral atmosphere, the only people doing much goofing around for the majority of the 85-minute set were 1) Neko Case, campfire noir knockout, and 2) Kelly Hogan, backing vocalist/hype woman/song introducer. The duo sounds sublime when their banter eventually turns to singing, but there's still something a little spell-breaking about the fact that in Hogan, Case essentially has her own heckler on the payroll.

Almost to a one, the songs were brief, elliptical, and beautifully conjured by Case and her five-piece band while hypnotic video projections (sped-up clips of angry prairie skies; seas of traffic-jammed taillights) played on a screen behind them. And in between? Jokes from Hogan about having let slip with some off-color jokes during a backstage visit with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. It sometimes seemed like the affable Hogan's role was to remind the almost too-reverent crowd that they were at a concert, not a church service.

Her banter with the headliner was merely silly at least as often as it was funny, but it leavened the mood in between Case's dreamy, sometimes menacing songs, rendered dreamier by Jon Rauhouse's array of guitars. Despite the the strength of the individual performances, the evening never quite overcame the dissonance between the mortally serious music and the vaudevillian chitchat. It was like watching a horror film with a laugh track.

Still, Case's voice, and her increasingly unconventional songs, are together a wonder to behold in any context -- even a confused one.

-- CHRIS KLIMEK

Neko Case performs again at the 9:30 club tonight. The show is sold out.

By J. Freedom du Lac |  April 9, 2009; 5:28 PM ET Live Last Night
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I'm down with Klimek's thrust, for sure. I know Kelly Hogan is simply diverting. Nothing wrong with diverting. And I agree with Mr. Klimek's general theory, vis-a-vis that thing that Neko does. You know, nothing wrong with doing that thing you do (unless yr. Tom Hanks and yr. stuck on a deserted island and have to knock our your own tooth). But never mind. What I'm saying is, Neko remembers what it was like to be outside of journalism class in 1982, waiting for the doors to open, standing behind those twins who smelled like Coast deodorant soap. But that was probably an illusion, like listening to the first Strokes album or buying something from LL Bean. What I'm trying to say is that Neko is Flannery O' Connor without the goth, or Paul Simon with the guilt. You know, you have to look past the past. The red hair (it was unruly, sure), the lack of respect for George Jones (James). I don't know, were there rules? Did we pay attention to the dynamics of drinking Scotch? Was Neko really the voice of Tacoma? Will she ever play "South Tacoma Way" in front of people? Did I pay too much for that quarter ounce because the second side of that Houses of the Holy? Well, I guess what I'm saying is...listen to that first Strokes album. I mean, really listen to it. Is it any good? I don't know. I just got back from Bass Pro Shops. Have you ever been inside of one of those places? They are amazing! But forget that, what I'm saying is I can't comprehend the ways that I miss you. They come to light in my mistakes. The world turns in slow motion.

Posted by: norby_blanch | April 10, 2009 12:03 AM

Even as someone who really likes the new album, that was a really new music-centric set. Plus, given that most Neko's songs are done in about 3 minutes, I would have loved to see 3 or 4 more oldies snuck into the set.

Posted by: M__N | April 10, 2009 8:45 AM

Bass Pro Shops *do* rock.

Posted by: polyester | April 10, 2009 12:49 PM

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