It might seem odd to start our new recurring feature "Last Night's Show" -- in which we briefly review a concert from, natch, the previous night -- with a road trip to Columbia, but singer Neko Case was worth the trip. Watch this space in the future for more concert reviews from venues around St. Louis. And be sure to check out some photos below.
It was puzzling to see Neko Case sneak onto the Blue Note's empty, low-lit stage with the pre-show music still playing -- and odder still to watch her meticulously tune her various tenor guitars. Don't bona-fide stars such as Case make grand entrances at the beginning of shows? (And don't they have roadies and guitar techs?) Her low-key gesture was a perfect start to a show that was short on pretension and long on craft and professionalism. Neko and her band didn't need any pre-fab drama to their show; there's plenty of drama and pathos in her songs.
The show began with the ethereal "A Widow's Toast," a song taken from last year's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Guitarists Jon Rauhouse and Paul Rigby coaxed forth eerie, shimmery sheets of sound as Case and back-up singer/verbal sparring partner Kelly Hogan floated on the song's haze before bringing it back to earth with the next tune, the rootsy, shuffling "Things That Scare Me."
Case's songs mostly fall into two camps: weepers and rockers. She peppered her set with plenty of each, with the stirring murder balladry of "Deep Red Bells" bleeding into the forlorn sorrow of "I Wish I Was the Moon" (both from 2002's Blacklisted). Case drew mostly from her three previous albums and treated the audience to the first-ever live performance of "Tightly," another track from Blacklisted. In the song, Case updates Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" by singing of desire, dependence and late-night loneliness.
The proper set ended with "Star Witness," a stand-out track from Fox Confessor that just may be her finest song to date. (Judge for yourself at Neko's MySpace page). Case and company came back for two encores — and although she threatened to play a Heart song, an Everly Brothers gem was the cover of choice. Still, judging from the audience's applause and floor-stomping, the crowd wanted to listen all night long.
Ever the gracious performer, Case hung around the merch table after the show to sign CDs and mug for pictures. (No, I'm not showing them to you.) After I told her I drove in from St. Louis for the show, she promised to return someday soon. Let's hope she doesn't wait too long.