That Voice

The new-ish Baltimore venue Rams Head Live is a great place to catch a band. There’s not much in the way of decor or character there yet, but the sound is good, and they’ve set up the balcony in a bell shape to maximize the number of people who can have a good view. Higher up on the balcony there’s a little cluster of twenty or so theater-style seats, pretty far up but looking straight at the stage. I’m young enough that I was still up for standing up for a few hours last night so I could be closer and have a good view, but old enough that I appreciated the existence of those seats, in theory.

I was there to see Neko Case for the first time. I put her on my Top Five list mainly on the strength of her backing vocals for the New Pornographers, and have since whetted my appetite by listening to some of her solo work. But none of that could have possibly prepared me for hearing her voice in person.

How to describe it? When the first song started, her voice shot out like a clarion and silenced the whole crowd in a second. It is loud but not brash, powerful yet subtle, and clear, clear as a mountain stream. If God were to decide to get back into the business of delivering personal messages, through prophets or whatnot, then it’d have to be through a voice both overwhelmingly forceful and transcendentally beautiful, capable of expressing something that could only be understood in poetry and song. Her voice, in other words. And listening to her belt out some of those gospel numbers, it’s hard not to believe she’s already been picked for the job.

It’s a good thing her backing band, known by themselves as The Sadies, played an opening set on their own, because I was too mesmerized by Neko’s voice to pay much attention to them later on. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh brother — not another Canadian surf/country band with a dash of punk.” But these guys had the goods, even if the long-haired guitarist looked a little creepy when he was singing. They were easily able to keep up with Neko veering from country to folk rock to gospel — they had even co-written a lot of the songs with her.

So, yeah, her Top Five slot is secure, and catching her when she’s next in town with the NPs just became mandatory. I’ll be paying all day today for staying up that late last night, but it was worth it.