Picture the scene: Team GDW’s Martin in a group therapy session for those with a predilection for the live music experience. “Hi, I’m Martin and I have an addiction to live music.” “Hi Martin,” I hear from those of you with a similar ailment. It’s true, I cannot lie; I gravitate to live music, and especially those smaller, intimate gigs where the lure of the music draws you close to the stage and lost in the experience. How many of you have left such a show on an emotional high, knowing that you were a part of something magical, and longing for an official recording of the concert to become commercially available? I know of two shows I’ve attended this year alone that I would love to be able to relive time and time again through CD or DVD. But alas, no recordings were made, and as fond as those memories are, they’ll gradually diminish over time.
This concept works both ways, however, with shows that we were unable to attend (or they simply happened long before we knew of the artist). For those times when an artist and/or their producer(s) determined that a live album would be created, memories for those in attendance can be revisited time and time again. Which brings me to “The Tigers Have Spoken,” a 2004 album from American singer-songwriter Neko Case, who originally came to my attention as a member of Canadian indie rockers, The New Pornographers. I was unaware that this was a live album, recorded over a few nights in both Chicago and Toronto, but after just one listen, knew immediately that the audiences in these rooms witnessed something incredibly special take place.
This is no regular Neko Case show! Go ahead and look at the supporting cast here, from Carolyn Mark, The Sadies, and iconic pedal steel/Hawaiian guitarist Jon Rauhouse, to name a few. Sure, Neko’s name is atop of the marquee sign here, but she certainly gives her musical companions ample time to share the spotlight. Go ahead and check out the great cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Soulful Shade Of Blue,” complete with some outstanding pedal steel from Rauhouse. Dig further into the album and you’ll encounter banjo from Rauhouse, mandolin courtesy of Jennie Benford, and the unmistakable fiddle playing of Travis Good (The Sadies).
Recorded around the time when Neko Case was finding popularity in both the indie-rock and alt-country circles, while this live album mixes both influences, it definitely leans towards the alt-country crowds. Up-tempo tracks such as “If You Knew” and “Loretta” (complete with some very strong Sadies influence) are positively bad-ass rock ‘n’ roll, while “Favorite” and the cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X“ really ooze that older country charm. As a singer first and foremost, Neko Case delivers some outstanding vocals across the album, and with both “Train From Kansas City” and “Blacklisted” sounding so incredibly pure that it is quite easy to forget that this is recorded live and unfiltered. For those seeking the ultimate collaboration, jump ahead to the cover of traditional favorite, “This Little Light Shine,” where Case duels vocally with The Sadies for an amazing and energetic gospel number.
For me, the appeal of “The Tigers Have Spoken” is the scarcity of this type of live show. Do not expect to find a collection of Neko Case hits here. Opting instead to perform a mix of new tunes co-written with The Sadies, and an eclectic mix of covers, this collection of songs from the concert series defy all regular live album convention and etiquette. Those fortunate enough to have been present for these recordings must have been completely in awe of their experience on those nights.
And this euphoria is what makes the encounter so special; the knowledge of being a part of it, and the unlikeliness of having that opportunity again. Fortunately, the commercial release of “The Tigers Have Spoken” not only benefits those lucky few with the chance to re-live the event once more, but allows all of us to take delight in hearing this phenomenal exclusive show as often as we want to. I have certainly enjoyed digging this one out again for this Random Record Revival, and highly recommend for anybody unfamiliar with this particular artist.