Monday, July 23, 2007

Neko Case -- "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"

Do you know how a really great show lingers for days afterward; starry refrains of absolute perfection suddenly floating through your mind at the oddest of moments? I've been hearing strains of Neko's lush vocal opening to John Saw That Number over and over again -- completely offset by the throbbing under beat of Deep Red Bells. Neko has been on continuous loop in my brain and it seems that no matter how hard I try, I can't go back to the exact moment in time when she stood a mere four rows from me with her red mane of hair trailing behind her as she began her 90-minute slice of vocal heaven.

To say that her live performance at the Byham Theater last Thursday was spellbinding would be an understatement. A lot of artists rely upon the magic of the studio to enhance their vocals. Not this woman. She can wail like Patsy Cline reincarnated. I also heard strains of Lorretta Lynn and kd Lang which, I guess, is why reviewers always tag her as alt-country. She doesn't seem to care for that label nor anyone photographing her because it makes her extremely nervous. What really struck me about her stage performance was how quickly she transitioned from laughing and kidding around with her long-time friend and backup singer, Kelly Hogan, to the hushed sweet opening lines of Maybe Sparrow two seconds later. It blew my mind!

Her backing band (the Jon Rauhouse Quartet featuring Paul Rigby on upright bass, Barry Mirochnick on drums, Jon Rauhouse on banjo, lap steel and steel guitar, Kelly Hogan on backing vocals, and Tommy Connell on guitars) was tight and well-rehearsed. Jon's been playing with her for a very long time and does an incredible job laying down the tempo with Barry.

Kelly is in a league of her own, truly. She has a fantastic set of pipes that perfectly complement Neko's soaring vocals and quieter refrains. So many reviewers have mentioned their hysterical stage rapport and it's true, it's all true.

At one one point during the show, Neko mentioned something about Virginia baked ham and pickles and Kelly went off on her own tangent about pickles with Neko prodding her on by asking whether she liked dill pickles or sweet pickles.

"Oh, I love pickles ... any kind ... you can just line 'em all up in front of me here on this stage," Kelly answered, using her hand to point out the make-believe pickle jars arranged before her.

At another point in the show, Kelly was coming back onstage and her ring (well, it was supposed to be a ring but it was HUGE and had caught my eye earlier because I swore it was blinking) flew off of her finger and into the audience. A woman sitting in the first row searched around and found it for her. Neko deadpanned, "Thanks 2B ... you know, the kind woman sitting in seat 2B." Evidently, as Kelly explained, she had just applied some hand lotion. She then proceeded to set her Dr. Pepper chapstick on the stage near Neko and it rolled away.

"Would you like some Dr. Pepper chapstick, Neko?" Kelly asked her, after she retrieved the renegade lip balm. Neko smiled and said that Dr. Pepper chapstick reminded her of the very first time she made out with a boy. It was her best friend's older brother who had a real thing for David Lee Roth. In fact, as she explained, he had this photo of himself and Roth displayed right next to his bed. Her friendship with his sister ended that day and all she was left with was the memory of him pulling away in his MG Midget wearing super short shorts. Evidently, Tommy Connell has a cousin by the name of the guy she made out with and she was very quick to reassure Tommy that it was definitely not his cousin.

BANG! Right into the next song without a pause.

It was strange at times, laughing so hard in one moment and then hearing Neko's ethereal voice filling the Byham to the gills. I loved it and never wanted it to end. But end, it did, after two encores. She played a fantastic set, mixing in old, older, and new(er) (Fox Confessor having been released last year). She joked that she couldn't real say that this was from her new album anymore.

Hey, when you have an album as good as Fox Confessor, keep playing it. She did every song complete justice - spot on! She didn't play the entire Fox CD but those she did perform sounded absolutely dreamy, even the scarier tunes like Dirty Knife (she called them her Halloweeny songs). She has finally peeked out from behind the instruments long enough to find her voice and let it shine. Welcome home, Ms. Case. You have arrived.

After the show, we wandered out to the merchandise table to pick up a CD or two. I was trying to decide which CD to buy (Blacklisted or Canadian Amp) when suddenly, the crowd erupted with clapping and cheering. I looked up to find myself face to face with Neko! What an unexpected and perfect ending to an unbelievable show. She is just as lovely up close as the photos would have you believe only more naturally beautiful. Stunning!

You can read my full review of Fox Confessor here. If you like Neko and don't already have her Austin City Limits DVD, buy it. It is very beautiful but lacking the onstage banter between Kelly and Neko. Still ... amazing! It's pre-Fox Confessor (Maybe Sparrow aside, as she was first starting to perform that one but not with the full range of vocal power she uses now) so don't expect to hear Hold On Hold On or Margaret vs. Pauline.

I guess I should mention the opening act, Eric Bachmann. He didn't blow me away by any stretch. If I heard one more song about the ocean or including "the depths" in the lyrics, I was honestly considering heading out to the bar. His drummer (and I use the term drummer VERY loosely) also played guitar and forget to plug it in for the first song she played. The highlight, by far, was his violinist Kate O'Brien. She was fantastic! Okay, as my mother used to tell me ... if you can't say something nice ... don't say anything at all. I said something but not as much as I could have.

Thanks for reading. Please drop me a line with your favorite Kelly and Neko moment.


Blogger bruce said...

I think you've had a long enough break. When are you writing again? I finally saw Rufus btw.

1:19 AM  
Blogger bruce said...

Rufus was fantastic. I was up in the balcony and was tired so I had trouble keeping my eyes open, but my ears were in heaven. What a voice. What fun. At the end, when he did a big dance number with the band and was in drag, he brought the house down.

3:09 AM  

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