Over the past 6 years or so, I've done my very, very best to turn people on to Kelly Hogan and Neko Case. When I finally had a long conversation with Kelly last year -- randomly, when I was least expecting to -- at Austin's Saxon Pub (long story -- no she wasn't playing a show...), I spilled that I'd been a fan I was 16 years old, when I first heard her ill-fated band The Jody Grind. She blanched a bit, as if suddenly remembering how long ago all that had been -- and then we both laughed because actually that made us both kind of old.
Last night may have been either the 10th or the 13th time I've seen Neko Case play live. I have a hunch it was the 13th as it was just so utterly bizzare. There was some heavy weather afoot, and the show was at Austin's worst cavernous venue, La Zona Rosa. In the 12 years I've lived in Austin, I've only been there a handful of times outside of SXSW -- I've seen the Scissor Sisters, Matthew Sweet, Elliott Smith, Tricky, and Ben Folds there. In other words, I really have to love the artist or band playing to be dragged to LZR (just as there's only a handful of bands I'll deign to see at the Austin Music Hall or Stubb's outside) -- it's a stark concrete room with negligible sound quality and a horrible stage configuration. And it goes both ways: It's never fun to watch people nearly trip scrabbling up the stairs to get on stage from the green room.
After fleeing a downpour of biblical proportions that started up whilst we were waiting in the will call line, Pinkie and I rushed inside LZR, only to be bored out of our gourds by The High Dials who are unfortunately rather mediocre and derivative and non-remarkable -- yet catchy in that mode that makes you inadvertently rock out in an embarrassing way before you catch yourself and overcompensate by standing self-consciously stock-still.
We picked our our way close to the stage during the set change; I ended up on far stage right next to a giant monitor which was a little uncomfortable at first, but then was only annoying during particularly bass-and-drum-heavy songs. Unfortunately, I found, as reported by friends around the country from LA to Chicago to NYC, that the first 20 minutes or so of the set were kind of tortuous. Monitor and reverb issues plagued Neko and Kelly; the band overall took a good six songs or so to warm to the giant, soulless room.
I spent this time kind of in tears and seriously considered leaving. But I didn't want to be like that; didn't want to be the snob that stops seeing a band once they start playing bigger rooms because the experience isn't intimate and cozy anymore.
And thank goodness, there was a point -- and I can't entirely recall when it was -- that things were suddenly okay. The banter picked up, we heckled pedal steel/banjo/all-'round guitar genius Mr. John Rauhouse (as we always do, we love you Johnny), and the rest of the set was charming, magical, and a winner -- even though it was the last night of the tour and voices were stretched to the limit and fingers were over-sensitive and strained and everyone's eyebags had eyebags.
Now, see -- the real thing that has me convinced last night was my 13th time to see Ms. Case live was that she finally did one of my very favorite songs that never shows up on her setlists -- "Knock Loud" -- that appeared on the recorded-in-the-kitchen (seriously!) tour EP, Canadian Amp (this is where I could be really snarky and mention that I bought it from the hand of Ms. Case herself 2001-ish, but I won't. *ahem*). I've requested the song at numerous shows to no avail; one time Mr. Rauhouse looked me square in the eye and said, "OH, NO WAY!" with a genial smile -- so charming!
Anyway, "Knock Loud," wonderful song that it is, wasn't penned by Neko, but by the very multi-talented Sook-Yin Lee, who you may know from the CBC radio show Definitely Not The Opera, or perhaps you spotted her as Kwahng-Yi in the film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (she's also in director John Cameron Mitchell's difficult new film, Shortbus). At any rate, I just love it -- seeing a old flame out and about but not speaking, staying up to see if s/he comes by and leaving a note on the door in case you doze off, waking up alone. It's a perfect little heartbreaking story encapsulated in three taut minutes. (Of course, if I'd been watching the setlists along the tour, I would have known this was showing up in the encore, but it was nice to be surprised...)
Neko and the band also pulled out a slew of other old favorites and new winners, playing for nearly two hours: 'oldie' "Set Out Running" from Furnace Room Lullaby stands strong alongside Neko's more seasoned new material; they blew the roof off cruddy old LZR with an epic, vibrant rendition of "Deep Red Bells" off Blacklisted, set spines a-tingling with the ultra-tight harmonies on Catherine Irwin's sublime "Hex," got all us saps and romantics teary again with "That Teenage Feeling," and sent us revitalized, off into the near-tropical night with a stompy, tambourine-laden rendition of "John Heard That Number."
Neko Case -- Knock Loud (Sook-Yin Lee cover)
Neko Case -- Favorite
Neko Case -- Set Out Running
Neko Case -- Hex (Catherine Irwin cover)
Neko Case & The Sadies -- Rated X (Loretta Lynn cover)
Neko Case & The Sadies -- My '63
And, so as not to give anyone a short shrift, here's a mini-primer to the career of Kelly Hogan via a few mp3s -- her time with The Jody Grind, The Rock*a*Teens, her Bloodshot albums, etc. (Oddly, I don't seem to have any tracks from her very out of print Daemon Records release "The Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear" with me today...) I've been meaning to expand this into a larger entry -- maybe I'll finally get around to it over on DFG someday. Since Neko's tour is over, you can find Kelly at Chicago's Hideout, tending bar and occasionally performing with her backing band, The Wooden Leg.
The Jody Grind -- Peter Gunn (cover of the theme from "Peter Gunn")
The Rock*A*Teens -- Someone Like You (Knitters cover)
Kelly Hogan & John Wesley Harding -- It's Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)
Kelly Hogan & The Mellowcremes -- Hanky Panky Woman (Loretta Lynn cover)
Kelly Hogan -- Strayed ((smog) cover, repost)
Kelly Hogan -- Living Without You (Randy Newman cover)
Kelly Hogan -- No Bobby Don't