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Virginia's insurgent country queen dazzles on first live album

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A far cry from the standard contractual filler live album, The Tigers Have Spoken is a dizzying statement of Neko Case’s intent, vigour and sky-high talent. It was recorded over a series of recent shows in Toronto and Chicago, with an interchangeable line-up of her similarly sharp, focused and joyously spontaneous buddies?Kelly Hogan, Jon Rauhouse and The Sadies. Alongside covers of Loretta Lynn, Shangri-Las and Buff Sainte-Marie tunes, there are brand new songs (like the gleeful opener “If You Knew”) and radical reassessments of old Case favourites.

At just 35 minutes, Tigers is a leave-them-gagging-for-more whirlwind, and confirmation that, at 34 and with three albums behind her, Case still has a tantalisingly wide-open game plan for her future.

The soaring voice that inhabited the bruised honky tonk dramas of Furnace Room Lullaby and the noir torch songs of Blacklisted is a ferocious force in person. Full of the animal instinct she praises on the title track, Neko rides Rauhouse’s keening arcs of slide, Hawaiian and pedal-steel like a woman on a mission.

The inner joy and aching pain of Buffy Sainte’s “Soulful Shade Of Blue” is joyously teased out. This performance alone seals her status as a major artist, but the riches keep pouring down. Ther’s knuckledusting punk spleen of “Loretta”, Ms Lynn’s own high-kicking “Rated X” (also recently covered by The White Stripes), or the way Case’s astounding vocal pirouettes on the Rauhouse slide tightrope during “Favourite” (the first song she ever completed, in the year 2000).

What really makes this work as a live concept is the way the listener is coaxed to follow the sound. There are parts where the acoustic moves high into the roof of whatever room the band are playing, and they give chase with zeal and tender care. All the audience is along for the ride on the majestic banjo-plucking rave-up of “This Little Light” and the closing communal singalong of mysterious mountain gospel chestnut “Wayfaring Stranger”. A gig of the year, no question. You should have been there. Now you can be.


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