Saturday, March 6, 2010


NEKO CASE, KELLY HOGAN, PAUL RIGBY – 3/5/10 Greer Garson Theater, College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM

Ethereal, magical, sublime, transcendent - I don’t think I can conjure any adjectives reviewers haven’t already used to describe Neko Case in concert, so I’ll just leave it at this – perfect. Not that mistakes weren’t made (Kelly Hogan’s music box solo during “Middle Cyclone” was marred by a series of thunderous electrical shorts), but Neko and company seemed so comfortable onstage and with each other that they just rolled right through the rough spots with a wink and, more often than not, a quip. Their humorous, self-effacing camaraderie was endearing – almost familial – making it seem less like (fanfare) THE AMAZING NEKO CASE SHOW (more fanfare), than an intimate front porch jam with friends. Okay, maybe a perfectly rehearsed, mic’d, and amplified front porch jam with friends.

Until now, I never realized Neko Case uses a harmony vocalist. Kelly Hogan’s voice matches so perfectly, I had always assumed Neko just doubled her own vocals in the studio. Because they sing SO well together, I wondered how far back they’d been doing it. My guess is early childhood. They might’ve learned to sing together before either could walk. Kelly was always ready with a friendly jab toward Neko too, like, “Oh, another song about an animal, imagine that,” which kept the mood light even when the lyrics implied gloom and foreboding (the song was “The Tigers Have Spoken”). When Kelly returned from what I assume was a bathroom break, to find they were about to launch into the Sparks tune “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” she rolled her eyes and decried it as the “nut-buster” of the set, but nailed it anyway.

Much has been written of Neko’s “well-honed machine” of a voice, and everything you’ve read is true. She must have what my choir teacher in middle school called “perfect pitch,” because even a cappella, she belts out the right note every time, no approach, no waver, no glissando. Even when she aborted her reading of Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” before finishing the first verse, thinking she had somehow flubbed it (she hadn’t), she got right back on the horse and nailed it a second time. This is a hard one to find in her catalog – only available on the Live from Austin TX disc, or on an obscure compilation called “Sweetheart” from 2005.

Whether due to the acoustic trio arrangement, or due to what they called Santa Fe’s high-altitude “freaky air,” they played a good half-dozen songs that rarely appear on Neko Case set lists, including tracks from the little heard 2001 release “Canadian Amp.” They admitted the oft-requested “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” is rarely played because it’s “scary,” and Neko characterized the Harry Nilsson cover of “Don’t Forget Me,” (which appears on her latest release, “Middle Cyclone”) as “cruel.” “Scary” to play? “Cruel” to sing? As in, “these notes are such a vocal workout it’s cruel to ask anyone to sing them?” Whatever. They sounded great. Even on the first “high-notes” number of the night (“Maybe Sparrow”), their collective perfection thrilled. It was kinda like watching a trapeze act or a NASCAR race – part of the thrill was in the anticipation it could all go horribly wrong at any moment. But it never did.

“Star Witness” was epic, even for an acoustic trio – a real “show-stopper.” We could’ve all gone home ecstatically happy at this point. The show had already been the length of 2 full Neko Case albums. But, after an almost non-existent encore break – about 15 seconds – they hustled back onstage and admitted they “didn’t really want to leave in the first place,” and proved it by playing a 6-song encore.

I’d be remiss not to mention Paul Rigby, the very-nearly one-man band, who had quite the array of effects pedals for an acoustic performance. He accompanied the madness from start-to-2-hour-finish with a smile, a “Rex Harrison hat” (yes, Neko quoted the John Hughes film “Weird Science”), and just the right amount of flair. If the acoustic trio configuration is this good, I can only imagine what the full band sounds like (not that they were missed at all during this performance). This was my first Neko Case show, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

~ Chris Diestler, A.K.A. “Toast”

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Set List:

A Widow’s Toast
Margaret vs. Pauline
I’m an Animal
That Teenage Feeling
Polar Nettles
Maybe Sparrow
The Tigers Have Spoken
Things That Scare Me
Middle Cyclone
People Got a Lotta Nerve
Hex *Catherine Ann Irwin song*
Dirty Knife
Buckets of Rain *Bob Dylan song*
Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth *Sparks song*
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
In California *Lisa Marr song*
Star Witness


Vengeance Is Sleeping
Sometimes When I Get to Thinkin' *Buffy Sainte-Marie song*
Ghost Wiring
Don’t Forget Me *Harry Nilsson song*
Knock Loud *Sook-Yin Lee song*
John Saw That Number

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Anonymous said...

Buffy song is 'Sometimes When I Get To Thinkin'

London UK


That was my suspicion, David. A lengthy internet search, however, led to no postings of the lyrics for that particular song, and I had no vinyl at home against which to check. Much obliged (^_^) TOAST