In an effort to work the kinks out of her new material live, Neko Case put together a brief European tour before Middle Cyclone drops on March 3. I was fortunate enough to catch an intimate show of theirs (approximately 100 people) put on at the Orangehouse – a venue more known for bringing in obscure metal and hard rock acts than critically acclaimed alt. country groups.
Still reeling from the effects of jet lag, Case & Co. was more laid-back and subdued than taking charge as their new awesome album cover would suggest. Although an inordinate amount of time was spent having to tune after every song (one of my personal pet peeves) which gave way to some of the most bizarre banter I have ever heard, when the band got their act together and actually started to play some music, it was heavenly.
The band opened with one of the Fox Confessor favorites “Maybe Sparrow”. If there was any doubt in my mind that Case couldn’t replicate her singing in a live setting, it was squelched within the first opening bars. I was surprised that after such little warm-up during sound check Case was able to belt out album-quality vocals throughout her complete range with not so much as a hint of uneasiness. It was absolutely stunning.
No doubt the primary focus of the show was performing her new songs — out of the twenty songs played, twelve were tracks off of Middle Cyclone (everything except “Polar Nettles”, “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth”, and “Marais La Nuit”). As a result this left little room for classics to be inserted into the mix. Sure she was able to play crowd favorites “Hold On, Hold On”, “The Tigers Have Spoken”, and “That Teenage Feeling” (which she said, possibly jokingly, was about the guitarist Paul Rigby) but a lot was left on the cutting room floor, especially anything prior to Fox Confessor.
Surely this was a bit disappointing, but an ideal Neko Case concert would probably last three hours long. Fortunately, the quality of her new material absolutely blew me away. Of the tracks she played, maybe two feel a little flat. The title track, which was described by Case herself as” being too pussy”, was indeed underwhelming in both instrumentation and Case’s patented vocal range. “Prison Girls” also sounded a bit unoriginal and redundant by essentially rehashing the mysterious and slinking guitar line of “Deep Red Bells” off of Blacklisted. Other than that, the quality was extraordinary.
A whirlwind of guitar aptly introed the stellar “This Tornado Loves You”, putting together a feeling of chaos surrounding Case’s always anchoring vocals. “Don’t Forget Me” (a Harry Nilsson cover) which has been floating around the internet for a little while was simple and sweet with only an acoustic guitar accompanying her. Similarly “Vengeance” was stripped down providing an avenue to take in Case’s passionate but non-autobiographical lyrics like “I’m not the man I thought I was”.
As a whole, the show left me in eager anticipation for Middle Cyclone. Although the performance of the new tracks were not as solid as her past material (as expected), she was still able to fascinate me with every new song she premiered – a testament on how strong the new material is. So mark your calendars for March 3, and don’t miss out on getting possibly one of the greater albums of 2009.
People Got A Lot of Nerve
Hold On, Hold On
I’m an Animal
Don’t Forget Me
Margaret vs. Pauline
Magpie to the Morning
Deep Red Bells
Wish I Was the Moon
This Tornado Loves You
Next Time You Say Forever
Neko Case // I’m An Animal (Live in Munich)
Neko Case // Hold On, Hold On (Live in Munich)