Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Side eye to Neko Case: my inaugural blog post

Side eye to Neko Case

I can be critical of anyone, and everyone’s a critic. Those who only know me even just slightly still know that I enjoy taking unpopular minority positions, especially on topics about which I feel strongly and well informed. Those of you who don’t know me at all are about to discover this.

That Ms. Neko Case has become a well-renowned artist is no surprise. She has the talent: a voice like few others with the rarely appropriate comparison to Patsy Cline and the ability to use it. She has the looks: umm, have you SEEN her? She has the story: don’t we all love an underdog who left home at 15 and has since carved out a successful artistic niche? And she has the smarts: using genres and subjects about which she is passionate, embracing sonic diversity, pushing boundaries and surrounding herself with smart, talented people.

I will not offer a critique of her catalog – people much more musically informed at DAFC, Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine and Creative Loafing do that more often and often more accurately than I. Suffice it to say “Furnace Room Lullaby” (Mint/Bloodshot 2000) and “Blacklisted” (Bloodshot 2002) are two of my all time favorite records.

Having discovered her music well before “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,” (ANTI 2006) I felt a like a hip early adopter once the media caught on, though devotees familiar with the New Pornographers and Maow are decidedly much more hip than I.

But ever since “Fox Confessor” launched to well-deserved critical reviews and high sales (more than 194,000 copies sold), she has lost considerable luster in this critic’s opinion.

After embracing her music for the aforementioned reasons, I have since found myself thinking about her as a musical lemming in freefall, closer to association with Sheryl Crow than with Patsy Cline. Meanwhile I stand on the edge of the cliff waving au revoir.

Shows I’ve attended have become groove-less and antiseptic: the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC, on April 11, 2007 and at the Moore Theatre in Seattle on July 1, 2006 are glaring examples. Too much time between songs. Too much changing of instruments from Rauhaus and Case - a set list problem caused in part because of unwillingness to play songs off of “The Virginian” (Mint/Bloodshot 1997) and “Furnace Room.” Too little audience connection and too much Case staring comfortably away into the stage lights, or singing with eyes closed. Too many fancy theaters and ‘seated only’ shows.

I will only briefly mention how my all time favorite Neko Case tune, “Guided By Wire,” has failed to appear on one of the six set lists of the shows to which I’ve been. There, I said it.

Then there are the fans and critics. Do so many really believe “Middle Cyclone” (ANTI- 2009) is that good? Really? Hand to God I’ve given that record 20 plus listens from first track to last and I don’t get all the high praise. There are moments of brilliance to be sure. “Vengeance is Sleeping” is one of her five finest singles ever, brilliantly textured and haunting in a way only she can deliver with Rauhaus providing a well executed base of complicated guitar work.

“Fever,” “Polar Nettles,” “Red Tide” and the title track are also fine examples of her evolutionary work. Ultimately the record as a whole does not work as a cohesive blend or sonic tapestry in the ways “Furnace Room” and “Blacklisted” do. She forges no new complete structure in the 2009 release. And asking the listener, nay, BUYER, to endure 30 plus minutes of frogs from her new farm in Vermont? Damn, if that isn’t cliché and insulting at the same time.

So many writers showering such praise on that recording (and the editors and producers that published it) make me highly skeptical about how well they know her earlier work.

So dear Ms. Case, most insulting of all is the prominence with which you featured and promoted your ‘rescued pianos’ on “Middle Cyclone” and then toured in support of the record without keys of any kind. “Vengeance is Sleeping” with only your vocals and Rauhaus on guitar? That song is nothing without the keys. Think John Cougar’s “Jack and Diane” without the hand claps. And how many times on tour in 2009 did you actually perform “Don’t forget me?”

In my best, and most sincere, Abe Simpson howl, “FOR SHAAAAME!” I implore you to start showing your longest-standing fans some appreciation. Tour with a keyboard, do a tour with the Sadies, play more of your back catalog tunes, and give us a little more of what drew us to you in the first place.

There’s also this little matter of you opening for Heart, yes Heart, at the most listener unfriendly, pompously populated by not-music-fans-you-would-have-punched-in-the-face-back-in-the-day-perfect-for-the-Sheryl-Crow-audience Atlanta venue Chastain Park Amphitheater on August, 18, 2010. Thank you, no, I will not be [did not] conceding the Live Nation/Ticketmaster beast their fee to attend this. Gloriously, I will be [was] fishing in Idaho following the 24th Annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival.

Pauly D.