Neko Case – Just For Laughs (Montreal, Quebec)
Neko Case didn’t find it too funny. Her Montreal gig was in the showbar of the city’s Just For Laughs humor museum, but then, in classic touring band fashion, her van gave out. It was near midnight before Case and her two band mates finally took the stage, almost 90 minutes late. Not that the near-capacity audience of 400-plus was particularly concerned. It was Friday night, smack dab in the middle of Pop Montreal, a four-day musical blitzkrieg, and the mood was forgiving.
Still, Case was rattled by her tardiness, seeming overly concerned with making up for lost time. She missed a chance to build rapport with the audience by holding off on stage chatter a little too long, and didn’t relax until well into the show. To her credit, however, Case’s voice can knock an audience on its tail even when she’s less than fully engaged.
Her set list, including lots of material from her new disc Blacklisted, gave that voice ample room to strut: “Deep Red Bells”, “I Wish I Was The Moon” and a lazily bluesy cover of Dylan’s “Buckets Of Rain” were all flawless. The evening’s highlight, if measured by audience response, was “Wayfaring Stranger”, Case’s version so lonely and yearning that you’d almost want to get religion.
Trailer Bride’s churning, hypnotic music set the stage for Case, even if the stage sat empty for a while in between. Singer Melissa Swingle is the undisputed focus, her pinched, slightly bluesy voice and unexpected phrasing as riveting as her skill on the bowed saw. Under her leadership, the band’s music curls, like a dysfunctional cat, around you.
Masterful at nurturing musical tension in tunes such as “Under Your Spell”, Trailer Bride leaves listeners as suspended as all those ghostly folks drifting — high, dry and disconnected — through their songs. Musical release, when it comes (and it doesn’t always), is visceral.