Neko and bottling lightning
Toronto was known as the “City of Churches” and for enduring proof, you need only consider that the city has two houses of worship renowned for acoustic features which accommodate music, and both named … Trinity.
There’s the one down by Yonge & Dundas, where the Cowboy Junkies recorded their full-length debut Trinity Session. And then there’s the other one near Bloor & Spadina, where Neko Case and company performed last night — the opening of a two night stand. In recent years, I was lucky enough to be inside the latter venue to watch Sarah Harmer perform an overwhelmingly powerful set, just before she started to garner an international reputation. And in the same spot, I saw Jeff Tweedy play a solo acoustic show, debuting many of the songs that would, many months later, become Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Does Trinity inspire artists to greatness? It certainly seemed to work last night for Neko. At the risk of sounding like James Lipton, she was luminous. It was a set heavy with material from Middle Cyclone, but that’s just fine. I’ve heard from a number of discerning music fans who’ve heard the record, looked at the albums in the pipeline for the balance of the year and come to the perhaps premature conclusion that it will be a tough job to dislodge Neko from consideration for the best record of the year.
There’s a casualness and comfort to the way Case and company present that would, in some instances, be derided as excessively slacky. As great as the music was last night, it was part of the evening’s charm when Neko punctuated each song with an upward yank on her pants (“Sorry, I have no ass” she explained) or between songs traded selections from Purple Rain with co-singer Kelly Hogan (really, Neko needs to flesh out that version of “The Beautiful Ones”!). And the casualness extends to her singing. In a time when American Idol seems to have created an expectation that great singing should be accompanied by hammy gesticulations and vocal acrobatics, Neko’s offhanded direct delivery is an unintended mark of integrity. She lets you hear that she is in possession of a remarkable instrument. She doesn’t need to show.
She’ll be back again tonight (I won’t, unfortunately) and promised to return later this summer to play Massey Hall — an equally august venue, but something tells me the intimacy and immediacy of being in that small church won’t be replicated.
I’m also listening to an audience recording of last night’s show, which has its own technical limitations. despite the noble effort to catch that lightning in a bottle. The truth is, there’s a reason why people say “you had to be there.”
And I’m glad I can say I was.