Someday Neko Case will be cool
It was about halfway into Neko Case’s 90-minute set at Seattle’s Paramount Theater this past Thursday. She’d spent about as much time giggling with backing vocalist Kelly Hogan and futzing with her hair while the packed crowd screamed and yelled confessions of undying love and devotion as she had channeling whatever it is she taps into when she sings. Case and Hogan had responded to the undying woohooing in just about every way they could think of – from ignoring it to thanking the crowd to talking shit about it – when Case cheekily muttered sideways to Hogan, “Some day I’ll be cool.”
Considering the twelve years that have passed since she released her first album with Her Boyfriends, the devoted under-the-radar following she’s developed in that time, the reliability with which she’s released album after album of imaginative music and delivered live performances which are equally as reliably charming and inspired, the speculation of her eventual coolness is not only hilarious but absurd. Does Neko Case even need to be cool? Indeed, she’s always fallen into that realm of artistry which just seems to cut to the chase, not bothering to stop off for an image or reputation. It’s not about that. But with The New York Times and Billboard suddenly dragging her onto their radar, it would seem Case’s coolness is of an emerging relevance in some circles. And besides, she’s headlining at the Paramount.
It wasn’t her first time on that stage. She was there a couple of years ago during her brief stint opening for Merle Haggard. But that night wasn’t about her, it was about Merle (who’s so cool that he’s never actually been “cool”). It’s likely that, for most of the people in this crowd, Case was cool enough back when she and Carolyn Mark made that Corn Sisters record at Hattie’s Hat. She’s come a long way since then, though, and, while the rest of the world – whatever that is – figures out how much they appreciate her coolness, this hometown crowd seemed to be woohooing not only over Case’s great songs, tight band, and impressive vocals, but also because she’s come so far.
It’s only a shame the whole thing went by so quickly.
Opener Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) played for about 30 minutes, max, barely addressing the crowd, and closing with an uninspired cover of “On Top of Old Smokey.”
Case’s set started and stopped with an excerpt of “Marais la Nuit” – the much-discussed nearly 32-minute loop of frogs chirping, which caps off her latest disc Middle Cyclone. She pulled almost exclusively from her last two records – Cyclone and 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood – with the exception of “The Tigers Have Spoken,” from the 2004 disc of the same name.
It’s always interesting to see how Case’s live band translates to the stage what they did in the studio with the help of all her other friends, and they never fall short. Pedal steel player Jon Rauhouse picks pure magic from that thing, filling in so many of the holes where Cyclone, the studio effort, filled with odd noises, piano orchestras, and other items. The rest of the flack was picked up by guitarist Paul Rigby, whom Case and Hogan did their best to embarrass, for whatever reason (he was a good sport). Probably the finest moment of the entire show, in fact, saw Rigby, Hogan and Case alone onstage with “Vengeance is Sleeping” – the first of five encores.
Visqueen frontwoman Rachel Flotard showed up for excellent vocal support on “That Teenaged Feeling,” and the band just flat-out rocked on “Red Tide,” which Case dedicated to “every asshole who ever moved to Seattle and complains about the fact that it rains here. You know who you are, you…coffee-demanding freaks.” She declined to play “Thrice All-American,” despite numerous requests and one very earnest, quiet, distant plea, swearing she has to physically be in Pierce County to sing that song, or else it’ll all blow up. All said and done, though, the tribute to Tacoma wasn’t entirely missed.
Case delivered excellent performance after excellent performance, closing out the whole night after five encores with a cover of Sook-Yin Lee’s “Knock Loud.” Most artists whose albums are suddenly reaching larger audiences, converting greater bases of fans and reaching “cool” status, may have saved their most current “hit” song for the end of the night, but Case had gotten “People Got a Lotta Nerve” out of the way at the very beginning, because, really, she’s not that cool.