A mere 48 hours before Neko Case's show at the Warfield--er, I was waiting for a delayed connection in Salt Lake City. But a bit of change before that, I was about as far away from June gloom as you can imagine. One of the better substitutions for those sunny skies and warm rays? Neko Case's amazing pipes, of course.
Neko Case, the Warfield, June 10, 2009: Officially, it's been three long years since Neko's last solo appearance in San Francisco, but the truth is the Bay Area has been luckier than most regions, as she's clocked shows here at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and with the New Pornographers. Still, it would be ridiculous to suggest that any of these are equal to seeing Neko in the spotlight.
That absence, though, has clearly proved fruitful. Few of the fans I know could've predicted Neko would be selling out theaters on this go-round, but these larger stages were hardly going to waste. Occupying a healthy chunk of real estate, in addition to the numerous guitars and instruments required by her band, was a video screen seemingly built in a forest, flanked on each side by painted trees and on top by a cordial crowned owl. Each song got its own gorgeous video treatment that was a surprise even to the musicians. (This is usually where I'd post a picture, but photography was forbidden.)
Neko brought back the old touring crew, including Jon Rauhouse and Kelly Hogan, along with one new face: Nora O'Connor, also from Chicago. Nora moved in and out for certain songs, but Kelly's role was much more pronounced, joking and quipping. Singing too--such glorious singing.
You'll never hear me complaining that I liked an artist when they specialized in a certain sound (i.e., before they sucked), and I'm not going to start now--but I have preferences. Thus, the selections from Blacklisted sent me swooning, even if Neko uncharacteristically forgot the words to "Deep Red Bells" and messed up the intro to "Lady Pilot."
Neko's newer songs, though, certainly showcase her skills as a songwriter in a way that her earlier performances had not. It was easy to assume she was just a voice--albeit an amazing one--so it's pretty sweet to see her picking up a guitar and leading the band. I don't suppose we'll see her kicking out the drums again, but I guess that was another life.
But the bottom line is that we came to hear Neko belt it out, and we weren't disappointed in that regard. The best musical moments of the night were probably any instance of Neko, Kelly, and Nora locked in three-part harmony, such as on "People Got a Lot of Nerve" or "That Teenage Feeling." But that list of highlights would also have to include the silly asides shared between Neko and Kelly, whether about cougars, drummers, or songs written about Kelly's dog. I wouldn't mind dropping in on their coffee klatch.
The opener was Imaad Wasif, previously seen in Folk Implosion and Alaska. Tonight, his band comprised two other people, one of whom I recognized: good old Bobb Bruno on bass. I didn't catch the drummer's name, but I can say that this band, Two Part Beast, rocked the fuck out. I'm not sure how their sound went over with the rest of the audience, but their jolt of a set was a great start for the evening.
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