Neko and Lou
Bad luck days Neko Case was in the middle of recording her latest album, Hell-On, in Stockholm, Sweden, when she got the phone call. Her house in Vermont was on fire, as was the barn that housed, among many treasures, her collection of old pianos. She was stuck on the other side of the world, feeling helpless but grateful that all her animals were safely evacuated.
A few hours after the 3 a.m. call, she was back in the studio recording vocals for “Bad Luck,” a song written and on the schedule before the fire.
For her show at the Sierra Nevada Big Room, Tuesday, Dec. 4, Case will bring with her an empathy for what Butte County is going through in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, and in the hands of a songwriter/performer whose poetic exploration of the human condition runs deep, empathy is a very powerful thing.
“I write songs from a feeling of solidarity with folks who feel alone or isolated. I think I’m trying to comfort people in this way,” she writes in the promo materials for Hell-On, adding, “It’s not a forceful way, rather ‘No commitment necessary.’”
The only bummer thing for Chico is that not everyone will get the chance to be comforted by Case’s sweet yet visceral vocals and the imagery-rich stories of her genre-bending songs. The show is sold out. However, if you’re missing Case, Chico happens to be crawling with great American songwriters this week, and there are still tickets available for two of the best, Texas buddies Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, Friday, Nov. 30, at Laxson Auditorium. Visit chicoperformances.com for info.
Lou One of Arts DEVO’s most-told rock-show stories is the one about missing one of my favorite bands in the name of chivalry. It was 1994 in Chico, a time when things were pretty much exactly how they are today—with local stages dividing time between the groovy and the hectic. Even LaSalles, ground zero for the jam-band scene in the 1990s, let the punks and indie rockers in from time to time, and on the night Sebadoh came to the club, I was in the middle of the dance floor with Mrs. DEVO and the rest of my noisy-indie-rock-loving crew ready for fun.
The only problem was, so was a random punk-rocker dude who took upon himself to start a one-man mosh pit in front of us. Toes were stepped on, tempers flared, and before I knew it, I was bounced to the sidewalk where I listened to the rest of the show outside while punk dude continued bouncing around inside with a smile on his face. Don’t worry. I got him back. I wrote a song about the prick. (Ha! Take that, random dude!)
However, this past Tuesday (Nov. 27), I got the ultimate redemption to missing Sebadoh in Chico in the form of an intimate solo show by frontman Lou Barlow in a local home. And it was, in fact, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in town. How could it not be? The most influential songwriter in my life—whose approach of mixing inventive dynamics with catchy melodies and a special attention paid to lyrics is the foundation for most of the music I’ve listened to and made—played a career-spanning set for more than two hours, happily accepting requests shouted from a crowd of many of my best friends. There were too many highlights to list, but I was especially bowled over by “Soul and Fire” (from Sebadoh’s 1993 album Bubble & Scrape) on baritone ukulele. It was also great to hear the stories behind many of the songs—including the newer “Calves of Champions,” which was inspired by the well-toned legs of the well-to-do So Cal parents at his daughter’s school.
It was the perfect night.