I Testify: Neko Case at Webster Hall, Blessed Be

Just got back from seeing Neko Case at Webster Hall. Case is truly blessed and thus, for the duration of this evening, were we.

It’s amazing to witness this woman of my generation and ilk — that is, we who are now more busty than skinny, hurdling head-first into our late 30s; we with the hair dye once deployed only ironically now valiantly covering gray’s tracks; we, the forever latch-key kids with the afterschool TV forever pepper-and-salting our tongues; we 60s babies’ babies whose limbs and hips and hearts are frozen by a paralyzingly self-conscious irony — it’s amazing to witness one of us so generously and comfortably fill a stage. Her set was so grand, so heroic, so long that even though I arrived a full hour into it from my j-o-b job, I still caught 45 minutes of that voice, that voice, that voice soaring into the rafters where I stood uncharacteristically still so as to savor every minute and every inch.

She really does possess one of the greatest modern voices around, angelic and unchecked and big enough to channel great sadness and great hope. When coupled with her lyrics, it communes with the best parts of each of us and then those dark unseen, unsung corners too.

Take “That Teenage Feeling,” which she sang tonight and is arguably the best title from her newest album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood:

Now that we’ve met
We can only laugh at these regrets
Common as a winter cold
They’re telephone poles
They follow each other
One, after another, after another
But now my heart is green as weeds
Grown to outlive their season

And nothing comforts me the same
As my brave friend who says,
“I don’t care if forever never comes
‘Cause I’m holding out for that teenage feeling
I’m holding out for that teenage feeling

All the loves we had
All we ever knew
Did they fill me with so many secrets
That keep me from loving you
‘Cause it’s hard, hard

Ah, but she’s the brave one. Because at our age those lyrics really mean something. So many have settled or scorned or forgotten what it was like to experience anything with an unmediated intensity that at times I feel like we’ve become ghosts of our younger dreams. To watch my girl rock those lyrics, her fists clenched, her muscles taut with an adulterated sincerity, well — I like her so much, really. It reminded me of how Yoko seduced John all those years ago, how he patiently crawled through the whole of her many-tiered, slightly silly art installation until he reached that tiny tag to which all her labyrinths were leading. And it read: yes.

So, yes, when Miss Case wasn’t making music, it must be said, she didn’t quite know how to conduct herself. I wanted her clad in something red satin and less ironic. Something Ella, something Patsy. Certainly nothing Reality Bites. I wanted her nonsinging self to match up to the unapologetic and bold chanteuse with the baby-bird mouth. I wanted her, even when talking in between songs, to behave as a woman rather than a girl with grey roots. Someone who murmured or boomed, Nina style, rather than someone who rambled through pop culture’s navel. Someone who meted out her words carefully to ensure they measured up to the voice that solidiered an entire auditorium of New Yorkers’ regrets.

But what can you do? Each of us grows at the rate we can bear, shedding different vestiges of girlhood slowly until one day we truly do embody the women whom our little-girl selves assumed we’d easily become. The women whose instincts, strong and fine, run their lives as well as the show. The women whose eyes this culture can barely meet.

Yes, I forgive Miss Case for her terrible stage patter and her clever-with-a-K Dr. Pepper T shirt. Gladly, I do, yes, because tonight, for a full 45 minutes, she made me think that this whole mess was still OK. Hell, she made me know it. Yes.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy