January 29, 2008

Magic Made Under the Radar

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This past Saturday night at the State Theater of Ithaca, magic was being made under the radar when Neko Case graced the stage with her presence. Case performed alongside a band of talented musicians — a show that can only be referred to as a performance of supernatural stature. This time, however, she was without regular comrades the New Pornographers and played songs that have established her as a solo artist. Still, the night served to show the light-hearted nature of Case’s character, while showcasing her sundry talents, as well as those of the others on stage with her.
The evening began with Eric Bachmann, performing music off of his solo album To the Races, released off of Saddle Creek Records. Bachmann is known for being the front man of Crooked Fingers, which has been both a solo act and full band in terms of touring. On stage, it was just Bachmann and his guitar, singing folk songs about little birds and “a man o’ war,” as well as a Crooked Fingers’ song about the need to build a fire. Bachmann’s performance was overall well done, but lacking luster. He was an amazing guitarist, his fingers seemingly dancing upon the fret board, demonstrating that his alias of Crooked Fingers is rather a contradiction than a representation of his abilities. The problem he encountered was not being able to make a full connection with the audience. However, his music was still in line with the atmosphere of the evening, paving the way for Case’s set.
One thing to note about Neko Case is the unorthodoxy of her career. While it has not been as publicized as others who have followed down a similar path, such as Leslie Feist (who has become the recent poster child for Apple’s iPod), Case has proven to be a long standing figure of distinct ingenuity with or without other musical acts. Her do-it-yourself ethics have been illustrated by her choice to remain detached from the corporate music world and her desire not only to be a well-rounded musician, but also an astounding storyteller and galvanizing entertainer. At her performance this past Saturday, she did not talk at the audience; rather, she talked with it, answering remarks and questions with wit and good humor. She even pointed at her own lack of fame, making fun of paparazzi-followed stars and saying that she was in fact not pregnant, although the tabloids may lay claim that her outfit was hiding the slight bump of an out-of-wedlock conception. The fact that Case still plays at small venues, in obscure towns, shows that she has no need to be well known. Making music is enough in itself.
Case’s performance began with her singing without backing the beginning of “A Widow’s Toast,” off of her latest album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Her voice filled the entire auditorium, remarkably sounding better in person than on record. If you haven’t heard Case’s vocals, I highly suggest you do. She has one of the most (if not the most) unique voices of our generation, and an amazing range to go with it. A fellow member of the audience stated that Case has “perfect pitch,” as well as a talent that cannot be followed and one that is completely understated. This is a perfectly accurate description of Case and her performance Saturday night.
Case played songs off of her latest album, as well as those off of several of her previous albums. She also surprised the audience by playing new songs, including one concerning an idealistic desire for pharaohs that is confronted only by disappointment when finding men in their place. She sang another about a lover’s long shadows and gunpowder eyes, making many of the male audience members wish their physiques met Case’s expectations. The subjects of her songs are always distorted by poetic representations and alternate realities, but still seem to follow the progression of a storyline. These songs also blur the lines of genres. Some critics categorize Case’s music as folk or alternative country, while others place it somewhere between alternative-pop and rock. The best part of the evening was Case’s ability to top even her own songs. When she performed “Star Witness,” it sounded better than on the album, not because of any lack of musicianship while recording, but rather because her voice conveys more emotion and power in person than a record does.
Case’s performance was one that really shouldn’t have been missed. However, do not fear, there is good news! Neko Case will be back in April with the New Pornographers for another round at Ithaca’s State Theater. I suggest you get your hands on those tickets when they hit box offices on Feb. 8. Hopefully I will be seeing you there.