Review by Alphonse Leong
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
Yes, the WISE, that little bit of American whiskey bar and Nashville music hall all packed into an unassuming little building in East Vancouver. The large paper Halloween skeletons were still up, but even they couldn't take away from the warm wood-grained feel of the place. It was a perfect setting for the pleasant opening trio, Auburn. With melancholy vocals, strummed banjo and very circumspect electric guitar, they weren't about to rock the room, but the slow rustic tunes had a quaint charm. A song about a "porch swing in Virginia" was dedicated to Neko, who was standing in the audience and enthusiastically taking in the set (nice to see!). The last song had some forceful guitar and elegant vocal harmonies, but when they left the stage and a Suzanne Vega CD was put on, I noted that a drummer would have been a great addition to their ensemble.
In a simple black dress, Neko Case came out to the expected roar of welcome from the crowd. She announced that a new "Boyfriend," Carolyn from the Vinaigrettes, would sing with her on the first song, "Holiday Midnight." A very energetic two-steppin' tune with a zippy refrain, it was a great set-opener and brought a rush of people to the dance floor. The PA delivered a harsh high-end sound, though, as, unfortunately, the CBC had picked this show to record for posterity! Case seemed a little perturbed with the low level of her monitor speaker, too, and she seemed to be forcing her voice at times. But, smiling bravely, she kept her composure and really kicked up her heels on the catchy and funny "Honky Tonk Hiccups."
Case's voice is not of the cute Shania Twain variety. No, she emoted with all the full-bodied energy of a Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn. Her earthy delivery deserved better amplification -- the fluctuations in volume and the hissy noises certainly weren't her doing. Her Boyfriends (including the Royal Grand Prix) fared better and their tight instrumentation came out reasonably well in the mix. The only small complaint to level at the band was that it seemed the pedal steel guy was doing a lot of the work, as if the other two guitarists didn't want to hurt their shiny Fender guitars!
Through the less than ideal sound system, I could only intermittently make out Case's attempt to speak to the audience. She did point out that she and Carolyn were both single and, nearing the end of the night, she did coyly say, "This was supposed to be our last song, and we were going to pretend to leave the stage and then you'd make a lot of noise, but that's kind of embarassing..." In the end, the encore was a reprise of the opening number. ("We don't know any other songs, how sad is that!?" she laughed.) Maybe it was just a ploy to drill the song into our heads, as I was humming "Holiday Midnight" all the way home...
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