Pitchfork Music Festival 2011, Friday: Neko Case
I've found, over the years, that Chicago generally gives Neko Case a lot of love almost no matter what the woman does. I know she's a member of the Chicago musical family wherever she lives—that was clear tonight in her on-stage banter—but honestly I've never had that conversion experience. Yes, she can sing. She's a real pistol of a gal, one that fires off crass one-liners to make cowboys blush. Her charm is hard to deny. But the music tends to leave me wanting something that's not there.
Tonight, I went with open ears, again, to see if the"alt-country siren (excuse the cliché) could deliver my knock-out punch. It didn't happen, but I may have figured out why. And I came away digging Case a bit more than I thought I would.
The "alt" in her country is really that the songs just float along; even stops and starts don't impede the dynamics. Case hits a lot of notes and packs in lyrics rather effortlessly. She hardly seems challenged by her own tunes. Enlivened by an impressive collection of guitars, everything from four-strings to six-strings to pedal-steel, interwoven with upright bass, Case delivered a lush though sometimes sleepy set which occasionally opted for thunder and lighting.
Kelly Hogan's backing vocals and comedic back-up in between tunes (Case and Hogan bantered about everything from eating meat from the garbage, to picking up dog shit in Union Park, to feeling like a penis full of sperm) kept things rolling along. Though I wonder if Case should just shut up and play a bit more for momentum's sake.
Whether it be "Margaret vs. Pauline" or "That Teenage Feeling," Case and band took a fairly subtle approach (brushes on the drums) which sounded better close up than further away. A new song, "about whores," also came off a winner. By the set closer, "Red Tide," the band was hitting a heavier and liking it. Case's music is a slow burn, and not exactly full of festival fist-pump anthems, but it wasn't anything but pleasant.