It wasn’t Vancouver 1993 all over again. Neko Case and Lisa Marr have both come a long way since the days when Case was an occasional drummer for the Marr-fronted cuddlecore band Cub.
Marr expressed excitement about sharing a stage again with her old friend, but she deserved to be equally excited about the songs she was showcasing from her band’s upcoming Sympathy For The Record Industry disc, American Jitters. Her “Experiment” is attempting to combine her love for country and punky pop music, and judging from this set, the results are positive.
After opening with a pure honky-tonker called “Shooting Start”, Marr and her band skillfully delivered the Aimee Mann-gone-twang ballad “Niagara, Niagara”, the revved-up country ditty “Little Red Bird” and the folk-rock murder tale “The Return Of Donna Lee”, on which guitarist/mandolinist Mike Flanagan handled lead vocals. Giving guest pedal steel player Dave Phillips a siesta, they devoted the second half of their 50-minute set to more guitar-pop numbers, highlighted by “The Boy With The Lou Reed Eyes” and Marr’s loving ode to her current hometown, “Monday Morning, Echo Park”.
After a half-hour break, Neko Case took the stage accompanied by stolid standup bassist Tom V. Ray (who Case ribbed for his Z.Z. Top-like beard) and multi-instrumental marvel Jon Rauhouse. Given her recent “honor” of being voted Playboy.com’s “Sexiest Babe in Indie Rock,” Case was dressed demurely in a tailored black shirt and crisp blue jeans. All she needed to seduce the audience was to sing. Her smoky, sultry voice captivated the packed house as she lent a classic country quality to originals such as “Favorite”, “Blacklisted” and “Stinging Velvet”.
While Case concentrated on her own tunes, her cover choices were quite telling. Her opener, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, established a melancholic mood that was reinforced with standout versions of Pee Wee King’s “You Belong To Me”, Dylan’s “Buckets Of Rain” and her encore tune, Hank Sr.’s “Alone And Foresaken”. She received invaluable support from Rauhouse, who shifted effortlessly between guitar, banjo, lap steel and pedal steel.
The show only lagged when a broken string on Case’s tenor guitar caused a mid-set five-minute break; however, she quickly recaptured the audience with a stirring version of “Deep Red Balls”. Later, a busted electric guitar string curtailed “Lady Pilot” and prompted Case to quip that she was “too muscular” to play guitar. She rebounded by segueing into “Look For Me”, which drew big applause.
While some of her past Los Angeles shows were memorable for Case’s “bad girl” antics (like the time, several years ago, when she flashed the crowd), she let her talent be the focus on this night, and her timeless torch and twang shone in the spotlight. A little maturity isn’t such a bad thing.