Neko Case
Mon Nov 29
Aladdin Theater
3017 SE Milwaukie

Got a friend who claims they don't like country music? If they don't change their tune after hearing The Tigers Have Spoken, the new live CD (on Anti) by Neko Case, drop 'em like a hot rock. This superlative 11-song set teems with gutsy, high-spirited singing, and twangy accompaniment courtesy of Canadian surf-rock cut-ups the Sadies. Whether she's throwing down a bitchy girl-group homage ("If You Knew") or laying into a plaintive ballad ("Favorite"), Case marries the raucous energy of punk to the type of sterling musicianship one traditionally associates with the heyday of Nashville mavericks like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.

Conversation with Case is just as lively and diverse as her fourth solo full-length. When I get her on the line, she's almost beside herself with excitement, having just concluded yakking with a writer from Guitar Player magazine. "It was so nerdy, it was awesome!" she gushes. "It's my fantasy come true!"

During the promotional rounds for 2002's Blacklisted, Case confided to me, "You have no idea how badly I want to be in gear magazines." Soon after, Acoustic Guitar cited her in an article on tenor guitarists. "That was a highlight of my life," she admits today. "I almost peed myself. The opportunity to be a woman, and have someone actually talk to you about what you do, is so fucking infrequent, that we just piss ourselves like children when it happens. "

Over the course of 20 minutes, Case touches on her love-hate relationship with Michael Moore, Canadian Thanksgiving, women's reproductive rights, and the eloquence of primatologist Jane Goodall. Whew. No wonder she was one of the presenters at the ideaCity conference in Toronto last summer.

"They invite all these different geniuses from around the world to come: physicists and ethno-biologists, cello players from the London Symphony, and filmmakers and inventors," she explains. "And then they invited me, which made no sense. I had to figure out how to go up there and not look like a complete buffoon."

Since most presentations weren't participation-oriented, she decided to encourage audience involvement, and recruited the 300-strong crowd to sing along with her on the standard "Wayfaring Stranger." "I didn't know if they would or not. I was really scared, because it was an experiment. But they did it! They all sang along. I almost cried."

Wisely, she caught the results on tape, and tacked them on as the penultimate selection on Tigers. Self-deprecation aside, this is just one instance of the careful planning Case put into plotting and recording the 11-song live disc. "I am a perfectionist and a control freak," she admits, "I also wanted to make a live album because I thought it would be a much easier recording process than the studio. Boy, was I ever wrong. I learned so many things that I never, ever realized... like most live records are faked. The singing is overdubbed later. Which just seems like cheating." Neko believed she should be capable of better. "I felt high and mighty, 'We're not going to overdub anything.'"

Adding to her challenges, Case eschewed recording during a scheduled trek. Instead, she worked backwards, rehearsing specifically to mount shows that would yield a live album (as opposed to simply recording concerts for an audio souvenir cum quick cash-in). Nor did she want Tigers to be an ersatz Greatest Hits. In fact, she'd only sung a few of these tunes before practices began. While gearing up to make the album, she and the Sadies penned two originals specifically for the disc, "If You Knew" and the title tune. She also tossed in several cool covers, like "Soulful Shade of Blue" by Buffy Saint-Marie and the Shangri-Las' "Train from Kansas City."

Of course, the upshot is that now she's touring in support of an album that she and her cohorts have already rehearsed and road-tested. Who knows, maybe soon she'll graduate from write-ups in gear rags to concert reviews in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. God help them if they try to pigeonhole precisely what it is that makes Neko Case so special. But here's a hint, guys: Write about what she plays, not how she looks. And if she asks you to sing along, don't argue.