Neko Case and the Sadies / Johnny Dowd Phoenix, Toronto ON - January 14

Neko Case and the Sadies / Johnny Dowd Phoenix, Toronto  ON - January 14
Doubtless many in the capacity crowd, their appetites whetted by Neko's guesting with maverick country noir songsmith Dowd, had also been present when Neko and ace backing band the Sadies recorded much of their new live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, in the city last year. Basking in the great response that disc has deservedly achieved, Case was in fine spirits, seemingly more relaxed than at those recorded gigs. Unsurprisingly, most of the cuts from Tigers were reprised here, kicking off with the big-sounding ballad "Favourite." Much like the crowd, seeking respite from the chilly night, it took Case a wee while to fully warm up. Her backing vocalist, the excellent Kelly Hogan, was buried in the mix at first, but that was soon rectified. The Sadies were typically brilliant, responding to every shift of tempo and tone with graceful ease. Canadian content was included in the form of Buffy Ste. Marie's "Soulful Shade Of Blue." Neko introduced it by calling Buffy "a hot Canadian babe," and her torchy version was a treat. Another Cancon gem, the Band's "Evangeline," featured Travis Good handling some of the vocal chores. By the time Case tackled Catherine Irwin's lovely ballad "Hex" in mid-set, she was in full-throated form. A new song was also premiered — no title was given but it featured a great lead guitar break from Dallas Good and sounded real promising. Surprisingly, Neko and band left the stage after just 45 minutes. The inevitable multiple encores numbered six, including a fun version of the Shangri-Las' "Train From Kansas City." That song showed that Case can handle pure girl pop too, something we already knew via the New Pornographers. One minor complaint is that she could have dressed a little more colourfully than her basic T-shirt and denim look. Neko rightfully demands that she be called a real country songstress, not some alt-country pretender, so why not look the part? Still, she proved once again that great things can come in small packages. The Case for the claim that she's the best damn rootsy songstress out there right now is a real strong one.