Neko Case


Features, Music, Review | by — February 23, 2009


Bush Hall, London
February 23, 2009

by Miscellaneous

We’re not just saying this because the audience of Uncut-magazine subscribers were advanced in years (if there was a man under 30 there, then he must have shaved male-pattern baldness into his own scalp for a laugh), but Neko Case puts the “alt” into “alt-country” – that is if, by “alt”, you mean the German word for “old”. Her voice speaks of what country music used to be, before the sound of Nashville became a catchall term for any kind of soft-rock power ballad sung with an accent from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Neko’s got a set of pipes on her that bring to mind Tammy Wynette. Or Loretta Lynn. Even – dare we suggest – the sainted Patsy Cline. But not Kelly Clarkson, you understand.

Unfortunately, the flame-haired songstress rarely performs on this side of the Atlantic and, when she does, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-us affair, like those American tourists who do the whole of Europe in a week (“If it’s Monday, this must be England”). It’s been three years since she was last in Shepherd’s Bush: back then, she was promoting 2006’s astonishing Fox Confessor Brings the Flood; now, she’s showcasing songs from another new album, Middle Cyclone (out March 2). The ingredients are still much the same: nice spot of reverb on the guitar; upright bass; Appalachian banjo or pedal steel from hairy multi-instrumentalist John Rauhouse; between-songs banter and backing vocals from Kelly Hogan, who has apparently come in disguise as the barmaid from a Munich bierkeller.

But far and away it’s all about Neko’s voice – a plaintive twang that snakes out over the heads of the audience before falling away with endearing wistfulness. It’s rich and warm, a perfect complement to the cartoon-noir quality of the lyrics – “Margaret vs Pauline”, for example, compares the fortunes of two women with the stark image “one lost a sweater sitting on the train, the other lost three fingers at the cannery”. There are references to serial killers, cancer, chained tigers and death by killer whale, but somehow the sweet alchemy of her vocal cords makes all of this seem quite beautiful.

Leave a Reply