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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

June 3, 2009 at 11:39 AM

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Concert review: Neko Case at Pantages Theater

Posted by Andrew Matson

It all went down in Tacoma, WA on 06/02/09. Full review after the jump.

First, a secretly shot video of "I'm an Animal," one of the best examples of Neko Case as a strong woman, an endagered species in pop music.

I had to play it close to the vest, literally. Those Pantages ushers are no joke with the "gimme the camera" claw snatch.


If you grew up in Tacoma, moved, and now you're a famous 38-year-old singer playing Tacoma for the first time, and you just happen to have a song all about Tacoma, you have to play it.

But Neko Case is no cheerleader.

Ending her Tuesday night concert at Tacoma's Pantages Theatre with "Thrice All-American (Tacoma)," Case glanced down midsong at Opal, the super-cute toddler who'd been allowed to dance on stage for no apparent reason, and had just brushed Case's arm. Smiling at the child, Case turned back to the microphone and sweetly sang: "There was no hollow promise that life would reward you / There was nowhere to hide it in Tacoma."

It was hard to tell what kind of moment it was.

Lyrics about gangs, guns, and crime filled the ornate theater up to its vaulted, stained-glass ceiling, and Opal became the future of Tacoma, the as-yet uncorrupted youth of America. Or maybe she wasn't a thought-out foil at all.

The music was great. The band kicked off with "Maybe Sparrow" and went right into "People Got a Lotta Nerve," punchy lead singles from Case's last two albums "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" and "Middle Cyclone," but really hit its stride with "Hold On, Hold On," a song whose noir Telecaster peals were heightened by Case's belting out, "The most tender place in my heart is for strangers." Her throaty, soaring voice was in fine form.

After openers Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico finished and Case's band started, sound-level issues arose but were righted after a few songs, eventually granting adequate clarity to backup singer Kelly Hogan's icy coo and Paul Rigby and Jon Rauhouse's showstopping virtuosity on standard and lap steel guitars. Case and her band repeat the show Thursday at the Paramount with a different opener, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy.

In Tacoma, there was never a noticeable lapse in the evening's musical quality, though Case seemed uneasy. She hit her head on the microphone by accident, shakily took a long time tuning her four-string guitar, made awkward conversation with her band and the crowd between songs, and admitted to accidentally leaving the bridge out of one song because she was nervous.

"We've never played here before, which is pretty lame," she said. "You can all punch me in the stomach after the show."

Singer Hogan chipped in with jokes and seemed taken with Tacoma, calling it "a bosomy town."

The significance of Case playing Tacoma was clear on one level: It was high time she gave her hometown fans what they wanted. That much resolution occurred.

But that one line from "Thrice All-American (Tacoma)" wasn't made any clearer: "I don't make it home much / I sadly neglect you."

What kind of "sadly"?

Pre-show, lots of guitars. All eventually used.

nekocasetacoma 005.jpg

Hey, Tacoma: Lookin' good!

nekocasetacoma 002.jpg

The Pantages Theater is pretty on the outside...

nekocasetacoma 001.jpg

...and the inside.

nekocasetacoma 003.jpg

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