EW's Gilbert Cruz and Ryan Dombal comment on two very different NYC performances, by Neko Case and the Raconteurs
Credit: Neko Case: Alexander Thompson / Retna

Shows by Neko Case, the Raconteurs

Neko Case / New York City / April 6, 2006

Attending an indie-rock concert in New York City can be a depressing experience. It’s because of the audiences. No matter who’s playing, there’s usually a small group of animated people near the stage, some gabby jackasses at the bar, and then a large middle section of people who stand…perfectly…still. It’s the signature pose of the signature poseur — the jaded city hipster.

But the totem-pole-stiff fans in attendance at Neko Case’s April 6 show were immobile not because of their overwhelming coolness, but rather out of awe. Sporting a lightning-bolt guitar strap and letting loose her powerhouse voice before a starlit backdrop, Case was a force of nature, holding court over the refreshingly attentive Webster Hall crowd like a Cub Scout troop leader spinning tales at fireside.

Touring on behalf of her new solo album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Case (who’s also a lead singer for the Canadian power-pop project the New Pornographers) proved that she’s impossible to pin down. She was, at points, a country chanteuse, an indie-rock singer-songwriter, a gospel queen, and a sarcastic punk (during one of her between-song banter fests, she proudly proclaimed that her new band would be called Merkin Donuts. A merkin is a pubic wig. Who knew?).

The thing that linked all those personas together, of course, was her powerful wail. Playing songs primarily from Fox Confessor and her previous two albums, Case utilized her range to great effect, whether on the standout new track ”Star Witness” (backed by Kelly Hogan and opener Martha Wainwright) or on a playful cover of Bob Dylan’s ”Buckets of Rain.” Her voice was at the top of its game, which is almost as good as anyone can get. — Gilbert Cruz

The Raconteurs / New York City / April 7, 2006

It’s no secret that Jack White is currently one of the world’s premier rock stars. A commanding presence, he skillfully combines a mysterious persona with genuine chops and a historian’s appreciation for classic rock and blues. But after last year’s disappointing White Stripes album, Get Behind Me Satan, several critics and fans worried that the maestro had wrung all he could from the Stripes’ spartan set-up. After playing almost exclusively with his ex-wife, amateurish drummer Meg, for years, was their spontaneous spark fluttering out? And if he could set songs ablaze with just Meg backing him, what could Jack do with a real band that could actually play?

With the Raconteurs, we learn that the answers to such questions aren’t as idyllic as one might think. Co-led by White and fellow Detroit singer-songwriter Brendan Benson, and rhythmically grounded by members of neo-garage rockers the Greenhornes, the new band was remarkably tight, considering this was their first proper U.S. performance. But lacking the ping-pong impulsiveness or kinetic chemistry of the Stripes, the concert illustrated that Jack’s talents may be too overpowering for a typical band arrangement. Plus, the songs — mostly hookless garage-blues redundancies that suggested lesser versions of Deep Purple, the Stooges, and Zeppelin — were hardly invigorating. Given the subpar material, White’s lightning-rod guitar work rendered his bandmates inconsequential much of the time.

Two more specific sources of frustration came with a couple tracks played near the end of the group’s 14-song, hour-long set. ”5 on the 5” closed the main portion of the gig and, with its driving chorus and hammering, off-kilter verses, immediately stuck out as a hard-rocking hit with the crowd. Annoyingly, it is also the only original played that’s not included on the Raconteurs’ upcoming debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers (May 16). Sandwiched between covers of ”It Ain’t Easy,” which was made famous by David Bowie in 1972, and the Flamin’ Groovies’ ”Headin’ for the Texas Border,” the slow-burning groove of ”Blue Vein” was the night’s hands-down best moment. Tellingly, it also found White at his most dominant. Bounding across the stage, the brawny frontman began by crooning into the mic like Robert Plant at his most sultry, then shot off a six-string solo worthy of Jimmy Page and stabbed at a vintage keyboard with the feverish, well-trodden hurt of a blues master. The song’s ache was palpable, but its power largely spoke to the gifts of one man rather than the Raconteurs as a whole. Maybe those disenchanted with the White Stripes should stop complaining…or start wishing for a Jack White solo project.