Neko Case In Conversation with Sasha Frere-Jones
The New Yorker Festival
Saturday, October 17
“Boobs ruin everything,” Neko Case said from the stage at Saturday’s New Yorker Festival, referring to the pervy onslaught of cameras that greets her from performance to performance. “I just want to look like I don’t even have boobs.” Case, sitting opposite New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones, wore a double-breasted vest on Saturday, effectively strapping them down. She opted for cowboy boots over heels. Her red hair was untamed, and had a kind of stage presence of its own.
Case, it turns out, prefers to answer questions with metaphors: Sasha Frere-Jones’ questions about musical craft, her know-it-all attitude as a teenage musician, and her performance on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle variety show returned overlapping allusions to masonry, cobras, and diesel machinery. When the conversation shifted to Grace Jones’ comeback tour and the giant strawberry Jones is prone to wear on her head, Case stressed the importance of each performer discovering his or her own gargantuan fruit. Her interviewer was overwhelmed: “I’m going to have the most fucked up dreams tonight,” Frere-Jones said.
The sold-out event attracted the requisite hip twenty-somethings, along with some middle-aged folks. Families with young children were sprinkled throughout the crowd. A woman in the fourth row frantically Twittered each of Case’s jokes in real time. “I can’t wait until my sex drive is gone,” Case said at one point, in response to a question about whether she’d mellowed with age. “Then I can collect stamps.”
But Case was anything but calm when she touched on topics surrounding the changing music business. The industry is being eaten alive by the rise of YouTube and free downloads, Case told Frere-Jones, and there is a nerve-wracking pressure to deliver stellar performances, as they’re immediately preserved forever on the Internet. Shows are no longer sacred when they can be watched repeatedly online. “I hope I [don’t] seem like a huge complainer,” she added.
At the end, Case’s three-piece band joined her on stage. Her powerhouse voice reverberated through the vast conference room as she eased into songs from Fox Confessor and Middle Cyclone, along with a Willie Nelson cover. Guitarist Paul Rigby and banjo player Jon Rauhouse accompanied her; Kelly Hogan sang back up. The audience began to move, if only slightly.
Then she ended, having won over pretty much everyone, including her own interviewer, who sent the crowd home with a final benediction: “How fucking rad is Neko?”