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After seeing Neko Case at the Nokia Theatre this week, she has tied Sleater-Kinney as the live act I’ve seen the most. If you count her appearances with the New Pornographers, then Case takes a commanding lead that she will never relinquish, considering Sleater-Kinney is sadly no longer around and, strangely enough, the next acts on the list are the unprolific Breeders and the increasingly bland Liz Phair, who I’ve still managed to see four times. Clearly I’m not counting any of the terrible bands my friends were in, aged 15-24, because if I were it would be embarrassing.

After the third or fourth time I saw Case, I remarked to a friend that I thought she’d never really put on a Great Show, but would always be worth watching. I still feel that this is true; Case lacks both the particular intensity as well as the oeuvre of a band like Sleater-Kinney, who seemed dedicated to melting your face off every time they set foot on stage. Some of the difference lies in genre, to be sure, but part of it seems a reflection of personality. Because Case would never want to melt your face off like Sleater-Kinney or PJ Harvey, or make you feel like partying like the Breeders, or have you be privy to her psychosis like Cat Power or Courtney Love. She just wants you to have a good time, and even if she can’t sequence a setlist worth a damn, you’ll know that every song on the list will be lovely, and who needs sequencing when she and backup singer extraordinaire Kelly Hogan are doing stand-up when they aren’t singing.

And then there’s Case’s voice itself; after seeing her with the New Pornographers the second time, I felt as if it filled up the entire room, only to ricochet like a wave from the very back of the venue to smack you upside the head. There is something so thrilling about hearing that big voice in person, how uncommonly rich and full it is, on and off record.

Anyway, my three favorite moments from the show are as follows:

1. “Star Witness”
Since I first heard it, this has been my favorite Neko Case song, a perfect synthesis of storytelling and mood and poetic images and unfurling melodies and harmonies. But the first four times I’ve seen it performed live, it has never completely worked. Part of it are the bobbing and weaving harmonies of the chorus, which Martha Wainwright once completely destroyed, sounding like a dying cat. This time, armed not only with Hogan but also Nora O’Connor, Lucy Roche, and Rachel Flotard, this song’s inherent, hefty, melodramatic girl group-ness was finally brought to fruition, so beautiful and daunting and nostalgic. I’ve been waiting two years for this song to sound perfect, and it finally did.

2. “Red Tide”
Talk about a dark horse. This is a great, appropriately tumultuous closer after the consistent shake-ups that occur throughout Middle Cyclone, and in person all its latent garage rock stomp was brought to life by drummer Barry Mirochnick and guitarists Tom V. Ray and Jon Rauhouse. Just a barreling behemoth of a song that Case, who introduced it as a break-up ode to Seattle, performs with incredible force.

3. “This Tornado Loves You”
This song, much like, “Star Witness,” I think is going to need some time to perfect. Because I think there are intricacies in the guitar playing that I don’t think they’ve found yet, and instead of the monster it sounds like on record–perfectly a force of nature–it sounds disappointingly thin in comparison when played live. “Thin in comparison,” yet still swirling and powerful, barreling through until the vocals nearly break at the end. This is rapidly becoming my favorite Case song; I wish I had thought of this conceit, more than almost any other piece of writing. Just a perfect, fully-drawn lyric, with the most appropriate musical execution to back it up.

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