April 13, 2009

That Was The Show That Was: Neko Case, Crooked Fingers

[PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr User SetOutRunning | We are pleased to welcome to these digital pages D.P. Dean, our former bandmate, schoolmate and all-around cool guy. We had hopes of leveraging Mr. Dean's recent stint of unemployment into some excellent Philadelphia-based reportage, but alas even in this economy Deano is far too skilled and credentialed to stay out of the game long, and as this item goes online he is prepping for the first day of the rest of his life at a new job. -- Ed.]

One of the disorienting side-effects of being on the wrong side of 30 is the feeling, at times, that your taste in music is getting "old." Or, rather, that what once was young and hip has evolved (or has been repackaged) to fit into the "adult contemporary" bin at your local Borders. Friday night's sold out Neko Case/Crooked Fingers show at the Keswick Theater had all the trappings: plenty of grey hair in the audience, ubiquitous WXPN flyers, assigned seating.

Any worries about the music itself were easily dispelled as Ms. Case treated the Keswick crowd to a 90-minute set that leaned heavily on her new long player Middle Cyclone and 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Case has really come into her own as a solo performer in recent years (and has also become quite a supporter of retired racing greyhounds, endearing her both to this correspondent and our renowned editor-in-chief [True dat -- Ed.]). She bantered easily with her bandmates and the audience, providing a fluidity to the set during her frequent guitar changes. But the key to the performance was the power of Case’s voice -— not always obvious in her work with the New Pornographers -— and the strength of her songwriting. Case's new material continues the trend away from the simple country/honky-tonk of her early solo work toward a more difficult-to-define blend of Americana.

Throughout the set, Case transitioned easily from older favorites like "I Wish I Was the Moon' and "Deep Red Bells" to newer cuts such as "Star Witness," "The Pharaohs," and "Prison Bells," while the band laid a groove behind her, buoyed particularly by Kelly Hogan on backing vocals and Jon Rauhouse on the pedal steel. Of note was Eric Bachmann jumping in on guitar for "This Tornado Loves You" to close out the pre-encore portion of Case’s set.

Bachmann and the current incarnation of Crooked Fingers (Miranda Brown playing occasional bass and adding backing vocals, Tim Husmann on keyboards and drums) had opened the show with a nine-song set featuring a smattering of tunes from Red Devil Dawn and the band’s self-titled debut, Bachmann’s recent solo record, and of course last year’s Forfeit/Fortune [review here]. Though your correspondent was hoping to hear "The Rotting Strip," or perhaps "New Drink for the Old Drunk," Bachmann more than atoned with a rollicking rendition of "Angelina," and a spirited performance of "Your Control" (which was conspicuous for the absence of headliner Case, who added backing vocals on the album version). Truly the highlight of the set (and perhaps the entire evening) was the band’s reworking of Red Devil Dawn's "Bad Man Coming." Husmann pounded out an insistent beat on the drums, while Bachmann and Brown's a cappella harmonizing turned the song into a haunting, almost-Appalachian tub-thumper. -- D.P. Dean

[Ms. Case's tour continues through April 26. Full tour dates can be lingered over here; note that these dates are selling out like crazy, so if you'd like to see the tour, you'd best act quickly and decisively.]

Neko Case: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr
Crooked Fingers: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

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