Funny girl: Neko Case at the Egg.
PHOTO: Joe Putrock
Case, Eric Bachmann
Egg, Jan. 31
It’s not every day that Albany gets to play host to a show
like this. Neko Case, one of the great voices of the Americana
circuit—one of the greatest voices in modern music, really—made
a stop at the Egg last week to share some stories, some laughs,
and a whole lot of songs. Add to that an opening set from
another of the mid-Atlantic states’ indie greats and you’ve
got yourself a surefire candidate for one of the year’s best
shows, just weeks into the new year.
multitasking Case has seen a dramatic raise in profile over
the last few years, thanks to both her solo releases (especially
2006’s critical fave Fox Confessor Brings the Flood)
and her work with Canadian pop ensemble the New Pornographers.
Last Thursday, Case and her band were nearing the end of a
long tour in support of her 2006 release, which meant a handful
of new songs could be expected. But the show went above and
beyond the standard trying-out-new-stuff affair, the excellent
new material like “I’m an Animal” sounding as bright and polished
as Case staples like “Maybe Sparrow” and “John Saw That Number,”
with well-chosen covers of songs by Tom Petty (“Listen to
Her Heart”) and Harry Nilsson (“Alimony”) thrown in for good
measure. With the fiery-haired Virginian loose and laughing
throughout, the set was lucid and charming, as intoxicating
as a morphine drip.
Things got started with the ethereal “A Widow’s Toast,” Case
drawing in the 500 or so devotees from her first utterance.
It was a good enough beginning, but it wasn’t until a few
songs later, during “Dirty Knife,” when the shell cracked:
Halfway through the song’s first verse, Case halted her band,
laughing out loud, and admitted, “I’m supposed to be playing
guitar on this song.” The crowd, appropriately, loved it.
From there on out, the music’s often foreboding tone was balanced
by humorous banter between Case and harmony vocalist Kelly
Hogan (who gave a shout-out to Albany’s Palais Royale!), and
between Case and her fans.
The four-piece band, it should be mentioned, were simply excellent,
particularly guitarist Paul Rigby and longtime Case sideman
Jon Rauhouse, who rotated between a number of stringed instruments
(including some mighty fine pedal-steel guitar work). Buoyed
a crisp sound mix, soaking wet with reverb, this was one of
those rare shows where the typical band-audience relationship
was thrown out the window—except, of course, whenever Case
wielded her beautiful instrument.
Oh, and she also made one of the better Egg-related jokes
in recent memory: “So we’re actually inside the Super Bowl
Eric Bachmann opened with a set drawn equally from his four
releases with Crooked Fingers and his 2006 solo disc To
the Races. Since leaving behind his former band, Archers
of Loaf, 10 years ago, he’s been firmly in singer-songwriter
mode, his gravelly voice often resembling those of folks like
Waits, Diamond, Springsteen. Strapped with just a fingerpicked,
nylon-string guitar, Bachmann’s performance on this night
ranged from impressive (the breathless, run-on phrasing of
“Genie Genie”; the speeding-bullet fretwork of “Devil’s Train”)
to somewhat flat (“Bad Man” was all buildup with no payoff).
He redeemed any shortcomings with set-closer “New Drink for
the Old Drunk,” simply one of the best drinking/self-loathing
songs ever put to tape.