"Welcome to the first night of our tour, which is fucking terrifying," said alt-country siren Neko Case, the orange-flecked acoustic guitar in her hands a match for her fiery locks. She and her five bandmates, including a female backup singer with whom she traded potty-mouth banter, kicked off their 34-date U.S. tour last night at Stubb's in Austin not with a song from their critically lauded new album, Middle Cyclone, but with "Maybe Sparrow" from 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. It was likely a nod to opener Shearwater, a majestic local rock band fronted by part-time ornithologist Jonathan Meiburg, whom Case said her group had a "music crush" on.
But as soon as Case gave that love she took it away, with a ferocious rendition of "People Got a Lotta Nerve," wherein she sang, "I'm a man man man, man man man eater/But still you're surprised prised prised when I eat ya." Talk about a case study in a Case song. The insatiable animal fetish. The long-distance vocal runs. The subtle outro trills. No wonder her prey was duped. (Read our recent Neko Case feature, Neko Case's Animal Instincts .)
Case said she and the band had been rehearsing in Austin for a spell leading up to the show. "We've been eating fried food for days and feel ready to rock America," she said, adding, "and Canada," as if not to forget the north-of-the-border fans she's accumulated from her days in the New Pornographers.
It was one of many pre-song admissions Case made throughout a set split fairly evenly between Cyclone and Fox Confessor, in favor of T Bone Burnett-meets-Something Wicked This Way Comes atmospherics, and yielding of an appreciation for the natural world. She said "The Pharaohs" was about her first love, a "Burt Reynolds unicorn" (yes, you read that correctly). She also said this was the first time she'd played "I'm an Animal" live. "I'm gonna fuck it up," she said. Well, she didn't. Not even close.