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Funny girl: Neko Case at the Egg.

PHOTO: Joe Putrock

Reverberation

By John Brodeur

Neko Case, Eric Bachmann

The Egg, Jan. 31

It’s not every day that Albany gets to play host to a show like this. Neko Case, one of the great voices of the Americana circuit—one of the greatest voices in modern music, really—made a stop at the Egg last week to share some stories, some laughs, and a whole lot of songs. Add to that an opening set from another of the mid-Atlantic states’ indie greats and you’ve got yourself a surefire candidate for one of the year’s best shows, just weeks into the new year.

The multitasking Case has seen a dramatic raise in profile over the last few years, thanks to both her solo releases (especially 2006’s critical fave Fox Confessor Brings the Flood) and her work with Canadian pop ensemble the New Pornographers. Last Thursday, Case and her band were nearing the end of a long tour in support of her 2006 release, which meant a handful of new songs could be expected. But the show went above and beyond the standard trying-out-new-stuff affair, the excellent new material like “I’m an Animal” sounding as bright and polished as Case staples like “Maybe Sparrow” and “John Saw That Number,” with well-chosen covers of songs by Tom Petty (“Listen to Her Heart”) and Harry Nilsson (“Alimony”) thrown in for good measure. With the fiery-haired Virginian loose and laughing throughout, the set was lucid and charming, as intoxicating as a morphine drip.

Things got started with the ethereal “A Widow’s Toast,” Case drawing in the 500 or so devotees from her first utterance. It was a good enough beginning, but it wasn’t until a few songs later, during “Dirty Knife,” when the shell cracked: Halfway through the song’s first verse, Case halted her band, laughing out loud, and admitted, “I’m supposed to be playing guitar on this song.” The crowd, appropriately, loved it. From there on out, the music’s often foreboding tone was balanced by humorous banter between Case and harmony vocalist Kelly Hogan (who gave a shout-out to Albany’s Palais Royale!), and between Case and her fans.

The four-piece band, it should be mentioned, were simply excellent, particularly guitarist Paul Rigby and longtime Case sideman Jon Rauhouse, who rotated between a number of stringed instruments (including some mighty fine pedal-steel guitar work). Buoyed a crisp sound mix, soaking wet with reverb, this was one of those rare shows where the typical band-audience relationship was thrown out the window—except, of course, whenever Case wielded her beautiful instrument.

Oh, and she also made one of the better Egg-related jokes in recent memory: “So we’re actually inside the Super Bowl trophy?”

Eric Bachmann opened with a set drawn equally from his four releases with Crooked Fingers and his 2006 solo disc To the Races. Since leaving behind his former band, Archers of Loaf, 10 years ago, he’s been firmly in singer-songwriter mode, his gravelly voice often resembling those of folks like Waits, Diamond, Springsteen. Strapped with just a fingerpicked, nylon-string guitar, Bachmann’s performance on this night ranged from impressive (the breathless, run-on phrasing of “Genie Genie”; the speeding-bullet fretwork of “Devil’s Train”) to somewhat flat (“Bad Man” was all buildup with no payoff). He redeemed any shortcomings with set-closer “New Drink for the Old Drunk,” simply one of the best drinking/self-loathing songs ever put to tape.


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