Smile Politely

Oh, Neko: A female fan speaks up

nc1Let me preface this by saying that I am not, and have never been, in love with Neko Case. Nor have I ever, while listening to her music thought, “Wow, she just gently but firmly grasped me by my woman-balls and told me how it’s going to be.”  And if I did ever have that reaction to a musician, I think my visceral response would be to run far, far away. It would certain not be to shell out $25 to let them do it again, in public.

What with all the doe-eyed, love-struck boys wandering around Smile Politely this past week waxing poetic about their Neko crushes, it’s easy to forget what it is that is so inherently moving about Case’s shows. It’s not, for me, her smoldering hotness or her celestial powers. It’s the talent of a musician so settled into her own voice, the southern familiarity of her songs that reminds me of my roots, of Nashville bars and Carolina farmhouses, of music festivals played in cornfields and women who know how to use a gun. (And no, I’m not going to call her alt-country. I know how she hates that.)

Last Friday’s Neko Case show at the Canopy reminded me of all these reasons why I do love Case’s music. In front of a crowd she is comfortable, unpretentious, and above all, really good at what she does. While it can be a delight to see a band who is just getting to know their instruments, it’s completely moving to listen to musicians who are in such complete control of their sound, pouring out a richness and vibrance into their eager, thirsty crowd.

nc2Flanked by gnarled, scribbled oak trees, under the watchful eyes of a looming owl, Case and her band spun through crowd favorites like Blacklisted‘s “I Wish I Was the Moon” and “That Teenage Feeling”, from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, alongside plenty of new tunes from this year’s release, Middle Cyclone. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes haunting images floated behind the stage — windmills, tigers, falling birds, a red-haired, Neko-like child being swallowed by a whale. This slowly evolving landscape of creatures and sky was the perfect backdrop for Case’s vivid songwriting; “Things That Scare Me” opened the show with a rush of wind and danger, “Maybe Sparrow” rang out lucid and aching, and “This Tornado Loves You” dug into the crowd with its fervent spirit. And the crowd dug back, closing their eyes, singing along, believers in every image, every note, every word.

The mood Friday was certainly one of adoration. Nearly every song began with excited applause at the first hint of recognition, and everything Case said into the mic was met with laughter or cheers — particularly the non sequitur, as when she reminded us that when trying to get laid, “Manners matter,” and when “That Teenage Feeling” got retitled “Don’t Step on Paul’s Dick.”  Charmed, Neko. Charmed.

Although I suppose that is, in fact, part of Case’s charm. She wears t-shirts and jeans to her shows, kids her fellow musicians in goofy cartoon voices, and is completely fearless in the face of the crowd. Her crassness is perfectly natural. She never looks like a performer, just a woman with a fantastic voice who knows how to use it.

nc2After seeing her perform, I can’t help but sigh at the giant crushes running loose on Smile Politely, and even more so at her show. Two boys behind me got outright catty when Case’s phenomenal co-vocalist Kelly Hogan dared to take some of the mic time. “I mean, come on. Who does she think she is? She doesn’t even really sing.” As for my darling fellow writers, I’ll just have to remember next time that while I may not share your infatuations, I can still appreciate a great musician, even if she doesn’t get me all hot and bothered. In the meantime, try to remember that your self-indulgences can be as big of a turn-off as they are an incentive.

But really, now you’ve just given me license to do the same when Andrew Bird comes to town. Thanks, fellas.

Photos by Jamie Newell

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