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Neko Case good, but not her best
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Neko Case good, but not her best

by Jessica Price - SGN A&E Writer

Neko Case
June 4
Paramount Theatre


Neko Case's sixth studio album, Middle Cyclone, is possibly her best and bravest release yet. Yet when the redheaded songstress played to a packed house at the Paramount last week, I couldn't help but wish her live show was somehow a little braver, as well. Which isn't to say that she wasn't good - with a voice as rich and soulful as hers, that would be impossible. Neko Case is a fiery lady, yet after being blissfully lost in the dangerous, passionate world of her newest album, I expected a little more spark.

Playing to an adoring Seattle audience (the Northwest will always claim her, no matter where she currently hangs her hat), Case bantered in her usual off-handed way. To diehard fans she can do no wrong; yet from the opener "Maybe Sparrow," the overall vibe was a little too perfectly controlled.

While Case's touring band - guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse and drummer Barry Mirochnick - is as solid as can be, the instrumentation erred on the side of restraint. I kept wondering if she'd asked the band to hold back so her voice would stand out, yet her vocals didn't reach the throaty heights she is capable of more than a handful of times.

The shimmering tracks were tame, where I hoped for vibrant. Doubtless, each song was true to form, but isn't the point of going to a live performance to transcend what you hear on a record - to connect in an elevated, immediate way? The most memorable concerts reveal a little muscle and bone - mistakes, definitions, interpretations heightened so that you hear things more intensely.

Diving into "People Got a Lotta Nerve" and "Fever," I kept hoping something would happen, but the show just never took off. The lyrics in "The Pharaohs" were oddly appropriate ("you kept me wanting, like the wanting in the movies") and the pace of the show remained the same throughout. Surprisingly, even Blacklisted favorites "Deep Red Bells" and "I Wish I Was The Moon" didn't seem to raise the temperature of the performance above lukewarm.

"Don't Forget Me," the heartbreakingly tender Harry Nilsson cover was a high point, and the set closed with the magnificent new album opener "This Tornado Loves You" before a five-song encore.

Like many, I missed her in the days of the Crocodile and other legendary, pint-sized shows. But having seen her on two different tours that struck me as slightly underwhelming, I hope she trades the modest interpretations to spectacular ones in a hurry. For now think I'd rather get lost in those beautiful, unique recordings, where Case's voice soars and the sound is as deep and vivid as the tales she describes.

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