Last night Neko Case had an intimate little concert at the Nokia Theater in Times Square for Laura Linney, Martha Plimpton and 5,000 other assorted hippies, lesbians and bookworm hipster douchebags like myself. The special lady friend and I got there early, and ended up standing less than five feet from the stage. If Neko had broken into a sweat, she would have been sweating on us. Seeing a singer you've been in love with for years from a distance of less than ten feet is a difficult experience to describe, so I will just say that it was awesome.
If you are a Neko Case fan, you've no doubt heard and read that her voice needs to be experienced in person in order to fully appreciate its greatness. I had always disregarded that sort of talk - after all, who doesn't say that about their favorite bands? Nonetheless, she is someone I've wanted to see in person for years - I've seen the New Pornographers several times, but always without Neko, and I always had a bad habit of being out of town for an interview or a vacation when she came to Madison on her solo tours, so I had never seen That Voice in person.
Let me tell you: even the siren-like calls of her live recordings do not prepare you to see Neko in person. Everyone knows her voice is beautiful, but the room-filling resonance of it is something that no live album, no matter how well mastered, could hope to capture. Once a song or so, she widens her stance, bends her knees, arches her back backwards and hits a note so high and loud and clean that its unlike anything you've heard before in your life. It never stops startling you, even fifteen or twenty songs into the concert. The first time she sang 'what will make you believe me?' at the end of "This Tornado Loves You," people in the audience made eye contact with each other with "did you hear that" expressions on their face. It was that good.
Last night's concert made clear to me that Middle Cyclone is by far her best album. She sang some deep cuts last night, but the songs off her newest album generated the biggest cheers (and, I would say, best showcase her voice), and all of them bear the marks of being Growers. After last night, I am now convinced that I'll still be playing this album ten years from now.
One last thing - no review of last night's concert would be complete without a mention of her backing band, four seasoned, career studio session-looking guys from her Middle Cyclone studio sessions who played with the utmost precision, showed the full range of their chops without stealing any of Neko's spotlight, and, as an added bonus, provided Neko with winning straight men for the goofy, self-effacing stories she told between songs. Those guys rocked.
Neko is going to be performing tonight on The Late Show with David Letterman. I highly recommend checking it out.