April 23, 2009

Vixen on Vocals: Neko Case Rocks the State Theatre

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Riding the bus to the State Theatre last Monday night, I felt apprehensive about reviewing Neko Case’s upcoming performance. During her career, Case has contributed to several different musical groups, including the Corn Sisters, Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, the Sadies and the New Pornographers. Sure, I am a tried and true New Pornographers fan, but would my admiration for Neko Case transcend to her solo work? Would Case’s amazing vocal presence still interest me outside of the indie pop genre? Could I sit through an alternative country song set?
Yes, yes I could. And I would like it. Now I can proudly say that I like country music.
More specifically, I am a fan of Case’s brand of country. Yet, before I could expand my musical horizons, I was first subjected to a 45 minute opening set from the Crooked Fingers. Previously a solo act, Eric Bachmann added several new band members on his last album, Forfeit / Fortune. With Tim Hussmann on percussion and piano and Miranda Brown on vocals and guitar, the Crooked Fingers trio disappointed with their unenthusiastic performance. Bachmann’s overpowering guitar riffs distracted the listener from his lyrics and left the audience confused and unable to follow his performance. All three performers appeared to be performing independently, never gelling together as a singular musical group. The band temporarily redeemed themselves during the few songs in which Brown’s voice was featured. Having previously worked with Ryan Adams and A.C. Newman, this vocalist is one to watch.
Finally, the time had come for Neko to take the stage. The songstress appeared unassuming as she walked front and center, and greeted the audience with a softly spoken “Hey.” Her timid appearance was quickly erased as she crooned the opening lines of “Maybe Sparrow,” resulting in an outpouring of applause from her adoring fans. From this point forward, the red-haired siren lured in her captive audience with a combination of rich vocals and poetic lyrics. Her powerful voice was juxtaposed against a projection screen showing storybook-like animation, surrounded by a larger than life owl with glowing eyes. Several of the drawings featured throughout Case’s performance were taken directly from her animated music videos, but these images did not correspond to the songs for which they were drawn. The surreal stage setup added to the dream-like quality of Case’s lyrics, transporting the observer to the singer’s fantasy world.
During the course of the show, Case alternated between playing some of her most popular songs and featuring several tracks off her newest album, Middle Cyclone. Of the newer tracks played by Case and her band, the most impressive songs were “This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” during which the crowd ardently agreed with the singer’s assertion that she is a “man man man, man man man eater.”
Accompanied by a six-person band, a number of songs were punctuated by wonderful performances from Jon Rauhouse on the banjo and lap steel guitar, adding a folk twang to Case’s alternative individual sound. Extremely impressive was the performance by Kelly Hogan, who provided wonderful backup vocals and was a partner in crime for Case’s comedic interludes. Case and Hogan frequently took time to respond to any and all audience members that tried to grab their attention in between songs. When answering an audience members’ song request, Case joked about the ironic way in which fans angrily demand her subdued music during performances. The two singers made up an impromptu rap about the “Knights of the Templar, coming straight from the Death Star,” which was enthusiastically received by the audience. This was just one of Case’s repeated Star Wars references, prompting Hogan to call her a “geek.”
But the audience did not find anything geek-like about the vixen’s raw vocals, which sounded richer live than they normally do on many of her recorded tracks. Singing songs about love, sadness and despair, the songstress has the ability to express these emotions to their fullest potential in her enthusiastic performances. Together, Case and her band produced an enchanting yet haunting concert that continued to please throughout their hour and fifteen minute set.
In her third Ithaca performance since last February, Neko Case continued to impress her ever-growing local fan base. This performance proved that no matter whom Case is touring with, she will always be able to steal the show. Although no future concert dates have been scheduled in the Ithaca area, be sure to look out for her next time she comes to town. Attending any of Case’s shows will instantly turn you into a fan of her brand of music.