Neko Case, The Allen Room at Jazz Lincoln Center, NYC- 2/23
According to most academic arts instructors, the first rule of stage performance is never turn your back to the audience." So, the crusty, white collar, Lincoln Center ticket holders who accounted for much of Neko Cases audience at her recent Jazz Lincoln center performance must have been pretty upset when the indie-darling spent the first few minutes of her performance with her back to the crowd, gazing through the wall-size window which simultaneously serves as the venues back wall and chief attraction.
But, in all honesty, its hard to blame Case because, simply put, Jazz Lincoln Centers Allen Room boasts perhaps the best view of any venue in Manhattan: a sweeping, floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooking Columbus Circle, Central Park, and the cinematic, Woody Allen-world which exists a few blocks north of the venues cross-streets. The only problem is the window is that its positioned behind the Allen Rooms bare-stage, rendering Case and her band near invisible to the few hundred patrons who filled the Allen Room on this quiet Friday night.
In certain ways, the view seemed to inspire the singer/songwriter, whose narratives tell the stories of the hundreds of individuals who passed behind the glass window throughout her brief set. Unfortunately, it also scared Case, who appeared far more reserved during her performance than her recent stop at Brooklyns McCarren Park Pool or her years on the road with the New Pornographers. Ill try not to be terrified, Case joked near the start of her set. We just need that acid we took to kick in.
Part of Lincoln Centers ongoing American Songbook series, Case accented her Americana roots by bringing along acoustic guitars and a pedal steel, though her on-point cover of Bob Dylans Buckets Of Rain felt like the evenings most traditional number. Given her strong connection to the Canadian music scene, Cases appearance significantly expanded the definition of what the American Songbook series can encompass (indeed, the series curators did not align he program with the United States borders). Like each of the performances on her winter tour, Case arrived with a small army of alt-rock musicians, including fellow southern vocalist Kelly Hogan, the Grievous Angels/Bloodshot records multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, bassist Tom V. Ray, guitarist Paul Rigby, and drummer Barry Mirotchnick. On this evening her show was divided into two sets, both of which clocked in around 30 songs and featured a hefty dose of material from last years Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (though Case did look back through her career on occasion). 2000s Set Out Running served as highlight during both performances.
One of the more accessible artists to emerge from the indie-rock underground, Case attracted an eclectic crowd composed of hipsters, Austin-heads, and the Lincoln Center faithful, the later of whom significantly sobered the evenings energy. Hogan, a noted recording personality in her own right, appeared the most relaxed, bantering with Case throughout much of her set. In certain ways, the pair made a good Conan O’Brien/Andy Richter team, showcasing their self-depreciative humor in an effort to mask their nerves. But, at the same time, the paired performers verbal banter felt like the evenings most natural offerings, a throwback to the folksy story-telling tradition so important to the American Songbook series. While many in attendance fixed their eyes on the venues window, Case created a series, of living, breathing American characters, not unlike the New Yorkers wondering throughout Columbus Circle. But, throughout, there was something very detached, and very New York, about the audiences response to both Cases songs and stories, though most patrons politely clapped at the end of each songs. Indeed, if it hard to compete with Mother Nature, it is near impossible to upstage the wonders of modern man.
At the end of her set, Case introduced her band once again and looked back at Columbus Circle and faded into the Allen Rooms wings. She returned for her encore with a glass of champagne in her hand and finished her set with a short encore. Behind her a maze of cars continued to wind through the circle, creating new stories for the American Songwriter series to one day document.