Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., April 3, 2009
Neko CaseStubb's, March 31
"Welcome to the first night of our tour, which is fucking terrifying," announced Neko Case cheerfully before her band played a note. Locals Shearwater had already done their part with an impassioned 35-minute opening set, mouthpiece Jonathan Meiburg's quavering vocals one outburst away from the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra in service of pointillistic chamber song. Banjo, trumpet, melodica, and Thor Harris rang like clockwork as Meiburg's terrifying emotionalism took the sun down. A crescent-moon cool settled over Waller Creek's bustling amphitheatre just after 9pm when Case's "Maybe Sparrow" cut the chill air, each line loosening more range in her howling tenor. And Canada's first lady of indie greatness had every right to be scared. The first half-hour of a scant 60-minute main set was marred by sound problems and general band noncoalescence, which took down new material "People Got a Lotta Nerve," "Fever," and Sadies co-write "The Pharaohs." Middle Cyclone, the singer's brave new original, dominated the performance, and truthfully, no other material was needed except perhaps Blacklisted back-to-backers "Deep Red Bells" and "I Wish I Was the Moon," which opened with Case's a cappella hypnosis. From that point forward, show and audience were under her spell, new Case standards "I'm an Animal" and finisher "This Tornado Loves You" echoing the haunting shots from "The Tigers Have Spoken," Left Bank society in "Margaret vs. Pauline," and a wistful reading of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me." "Thank you Harry Nilsson, wherever you are," waved Case, almost exactly Marianne Faithfull's salute two years ago in ending one of her sets with "Don't Forget Me." The encore, four more new tunes – "Vengeance Is Sleeping," "The Next Time You Say 'Forever,'" "Magpie to the Morning," "Red Tide" – only got better as they went, especially "Magpie," which Case said she wrote for her father. "He didn't appreciate it, though." Now that's terrifying.