Friday, April 10, 2009

Neko Case Live at the 9:30 Club- 4/9/09

For those who don't know me well, allow me to get some things out in the open: I'm completely obsessed with Neko Case. I want to be her friend, I want to be a member of her band, I want to be HER.

Anyway. Neko performed two nights straight in support of her latest incredible album "Middle Cyclone." I saw her tonight (I am writing this immediately after the Thursday is late...) and she killed it.

But more on that in a minute. First, let's talk about Okkervil River's Will Sheff, who opened the night with seven or eight song set of Okkervil River favorites. Sheff performed most of the tunes with just an acoustic guitar, but an electric guitarist joined him for the last few (I believe the man's name was Phil because I recall a joke about naming their two-man band "Okkerphil River"). Performing with such little accompaniment, Sheff's great songwriting ability was on full display. Songs like "Plus Ones" and "Pop Lie" sounded slightly more intimate, despite Sheff strumming furiously and singing with his signature bleating vocals, while "Lost Coastlines" and set-closer "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe" were surprisingly muscular despite the two-dude line-up. The rough edges of the songs live made the tracks seem more like unpolished garage-rock than the high-concept, well-orchestrated folk-pop from Okkervil River albums. "On Tour With Zykos" and "Just Give Me Time" were hushed and gorgeous on stage but the chatty crowd made it hard to appreciate them. One audience member mentioned loudly that Okkervil River makes him want to "shoot himself in the face." I respectfully disagree, sir. I thoroughly enjoyed Will Sheff's set and it made me excited to see him perform with the full band.

Then came Neko.

As she sings in one of my favorite tracks off of "Middle Cyclone," Neko Case is an animal, indeed. Dressed in all-black but sporting her signature mane of red hair in an untamed, tangled mess , Case looked like the tiger she sings about the haunting "The Tigers Have Spoken." Unlike that tiger, however, Neko is unchained and completely wild. Between her awkward but hilarious stage banter about making out with the Grim Reaper and breaking her nose, she sang with such a pure, mesmerizing clarity that I was captivated from the first note of "Maybe Sparrow" up through the last punch of "Knock Loud."

It's tough to say where Neko Case is most in her element. She is equally rousing in garage-band jams like "Red Tide" and "Fever" as she is stunning in slower ballads like "I Wish I Was The Moon" and "Middle Cyclone." It really just comes down to, as usual, the voice. Every time she opened her mouth to belt a note I could feel the anticipation in the room- everyone was waiting to hear that ribbon of voice that was strong and gentle and quiet and loud and war and peace all at once. Every note she sang was so emotive and gorgeous that the songs were completely transformed.

"Prison Girls," the spooky dirge from "Middle Cyclone," was so haunting live that I got goosebumps. Of the covers she played, Harry Nilsson cover "Don't Forget Me" became an intimate, loungey love song (as the song started and Case stood beneath the soft blue lights, she cheekily dedicated the song to "my darling Harry") and "Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth" transformed into a rough, spirited folk song. "This Tornado Loves You" was especially invigorating live. It felt urgent and sincere despite being a love song written from the perspective of a natural disaster.

I could go on like this about everything Neko Case sang- it was all gorgeous and spell-binding. Hearing her sing made me think of how I watched American Idol for the first time in years on Tuesday night. All of the performers had such bland voices already, but compared to Case's, they sound like how oatmeal would if it could sing. Boring, mushy, and all the same. I'd never seen Neko live before but now I've fallen in love. She's incredibly dynamic and talented and all that and more comes across brilliantly on stage.

Of course I can't mention the show without giving props to her fantastic band (I don't know if they're still called her Boyfriends, so I'll just say they're her band). Each member ebbed and flowed perfectly with Case and they had the flawless synergy of a band who has been playing together for decades.

In case you didn't figure it out from the above love letter, GO SEE NEKO CASE LIVE NOW. She is a force of nature.

Also, if you missed the show, stream it on NPR!!! CLICK

**This review rambles a lot etc. but in my defense it is one in the morning and I am exhausted. Goodnight.

***If anyone's interested in the set list (for Will Sheff or Neko Case) email me- I got both.


1 comment:

kmb187 said...

Thanks for the review! I, too, am obsessed with Neko Case. And Kelly Hogan. It was such an amazing show.

PS - I assumed it was "Okkerfil(l)," like replacements or fill-ins. But who really knows.