NEKO CASE + The High Dials @ Club Soda

By Idle Matt - Idle Minds - 04/04/2006

If I had to describe last week’s Neko Case show at Club Soda in two words, it would be Goose-bump Inducing. I’ve had this opening sentence set in my mind for a while, so let’s just ignore the fact that goose-bump is technically two words. Please? (Editor's Note: Fine.)

Goose-bumps... what I get every time I hear Neko’s voice. Whether it is her solo work or her vocal duties with the New Pornographers, it never fails. If you don’t get it, listen to "The Bleeding Heart Show" from the last album Twin Cinema to be converted for life. If that fails, stop reading this review now. You’re useless to me.

Now that we got rid of the riff-raff, I can continue with the review.

A few words on the opening act, The High Dials. Although I was initially impressed with their washed-out 60's-esque fuzz/flange sound, the set got tedious pretty quickly. They then saved it with the last song (a new one) where the bassist took off his shoes, sat down and whipped out the sitar. I dismissed the song as sounding the same as the rest, but gradually the drumming and sitar work got more and more frenetic, and it won me over. Who isn’t a sucker for a good sitar solo! The opening set also provided the funniest moment of the concert when while explaining their opening slot for Neko Case’s tour, someone in the crowd yelled out "Welcome to Montreal!". The lead singer seemed a little pissed when he had to explain that they were from Montreal.

A little bit of review background: I saw Neko Case open for Wilco at Metropolis a few years back. I was impressed with her vocal prowess, but the music all sounded the same to me. A few years later, having listened to most of her albums -- especially Blacklisted and the new album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood -- the music is much more enjoyable for me, but I still find that the songs have a bit of ‘sameness’ to them. Not to say that the music is bad, it’s just that it gets hard to distinguish one song from another when they all have the same country twang and slide guitar. And that is my excuse for not getting too deep into the details of each and every song performed.

Starting the set with "Favorite" (older rare song, done live on The Tigers Have Spoken), Neko Case and her excellent crew of musicians treated the crowd to a pristine main set of 15 songs, concentrating on material from the new album, but interspersed with songs from older albums. Neko Case’s strong vocals are the centerpiece, but the band proved that they were no slouches. Kelly Hogan provided amazing backup vocals, harmonizing nicely with Neko -- especially during "A Widow’s Toast". Jon Rauhouse switched effortlessly between banjo, steel guitar and acoustic. I found that Paul Rigby played a little too much with his electric guitar setup, creating lulls in the show, but this is a very minor complaint. Getting back to the main reason everyone went to the show, I’ll quote my friend Vivian who said of Neko Case: "she is a singer's singer -- amazing range and plays with pitch and tone -- and even when she's off-key, which is rare; she still sounds good". Couldn’t have said it better myself. (Thanks Viv, your cheque is in the mail. Good thing they pay me by the word!)

The real treat of the show was when Neko brought out four members of the Montreal-based Bulgarian women’s choir known as Dragana. They provided backup vocals for "Dirty Knife", and then Neko and Kelly returned the favour by backing up the ladies for (what I believe was) a traditional Bulgarian folk song. The choir have an absolutely amazing and unique-sounding vocal style, and really made the crowd (including myself) feel like they had seen something special.

The main set ended with the new song "Hold On, Hold On", co-written with the Sadies, one of my favourites. A quick bathroom break -- or whatever they do for those few minutes while the crowd chants for them to return -- and the band returned to the stage for the first encore. Three songs were played, including the absolute highlight of the show and the song I was waiting to hear, "John Saw That Number". Best song on the new album, and it was performed live to perfection. Another quick break and they returned for a second encore. The show was closed out with her great cover of the Buffy Sainte-Marie song "Soulful Shade of Blue"

What else can I say? It was a great show, and I wouldn’t hesitate a second to see Neko Case perform live again. And neither should you.

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