Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Rob Delaney at Wits, 5/10/13

Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Rob Delaney at Wits, 5/10/13
Photo by Youa Vang

Wits with Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Rob Delaney
Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul
Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday night's Wits session opened with host John Moe thanking everyone for attending, more so because it was opening night for The Great Gatsby in theaters. Moe went on to joke that unbeknownst to a lot of people, the original book was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald at the Fitzgerald Theater as a sketch for Wits, and because the audience was missing out on the movie, sudden bursts of hip-hop was promised throughout the evening.

Unlike most Wits shows, May 10 featured three guests rather than the usual two: comedian Rob Delaney and musicians Neko Case and Kelly Hogan. Delaney is a comedian/actor that could have easily carried the show himself with his non-PC humor -- although he insists that his jokes are never truly aggressive, and because he's a humanist, he likes people. Rob is well known for his activity on Twitter which features a fictional character, Karen his neighbor. Karen is the focus of his desires and concerns, and he'll often post stories such as the time Karen asked him to water his plants while she was away on vacation, so he spent a few minutes watering the plants and the rest of the time sniffing her bicycle seat.

Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Rob Delaney at Wits, 5/10/13
Photo by Youa Vang

Playing into this, John Moe asked Rob what the ingredients were to a successful dirty joke, to which Rob replied, "Vulnerability, specificity, nuance, saying something you shouldn't say and put it into question form, and juxtaposition." Moe then asked Delaney to share some of his stand up, which was a rare treat. When the young Rob was twelve, he wrote a letter to his favorite band, Danzig, about how hard they rocked. He received an inane reply not from Glenn, but rather bassist Eerie Von, on how they rocked so hard and other mundane things. Being a teenager, Rob filed the letter away and forgot about, but received another letter from Eerie a few months later asking what happened -- since they hadn't heard back from Rob.

Kelly Hogan may not be a household name, but the performer has done work for a lot of big names like Andrew Bird, Jakob Dylan, and most importantly, Neko Case. Hogan often collaborates with Case, and opened the music portion of the evening with "I Like to Keep Myself in Pain," a piece that has traces of country music. The singer has a voice as clear as a bell, yet carries so much emotion in the depths of it. When Neko came out, Hogan complemented Neko's yodel-like howls on her song that Case wrote for the The Hunger Games' s soundtrack.

Comparable to an ordinary concert, Wits allows musicians to bring up stories when there is not often time for on a regular stage. Neko shared that her "Nothing to Remember" performance, her contribution to the soundtrack, was the first time she had played it in front of an audience -- something that was terrifying for Case. Growing up in Tacoma, Neko was very poor, something she says that you never really outgrow. She shared that people think that country music may be thought of as a southern thing, but it really comes from places where people are financially bound. As John Moe was dancing around putting a label to it, Neko came right out and said it, "I don't know if you can ever get that stuff off. It's like smell lines coming off of you all of the time. Yeah, I'm white trash, and you know it."
Neko's music may be classified as country, but she has a edge to her music that takes her out of her genre. Like Rob, Neko uses Twitter a lot to connect with people. John shared that he had been following her on Twitter, more especially as she is putting together her newest album, saying it was exhausting and prodding why she just doesn't slap something together. She replied, "Well, since I didn't do you all a favor of breeding a child to bring into this world and carrying my genes -- I'm doing you a favor by stomping them out actually. I kept choosing music over family." Note that since it was a radio show, Case was dressed casually in plaid pants and zip up jacket, and you forget her age and how long she has been in the music scene until you see her live. She went on to confess, "I'm very much a control freak to the point of it's maybe medical."

Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Rob Delaney at Wits, 5/10/13
Photo by Youa Vang

With her large eyes, Kelly Hogan at a glance can almost be mistaken for Wynonna Judd, but the singer -- although theatrical in her movements -- is understated yet controlled with her subtle approach. After she and Neko performed a song which she wrote for Case because Neko was having a bad day, John Moe invited Kelly to share her story. Hogan met Neko when Kelly was working as a publicist for Bloodshot Records. She was sent on assignment to CMJ to check Case out, being so impressed that she bought Neko some whiskeys, and the two bonded over some knishes the next day. Kelly perfectly put into words her struggle with music that many artists, and even just being human and the act of always striving to find new directions, have run into. After moving to Chicago, she tried to quit music for a bit saying, "I had doing music for so long. I thought about people who work in banks. Maybe people who work in a bank want to be in a rock band, and sometimes when you're in a rock band, you think 'I wish I could work in a hardware store.'"

With three guests, it was tough to fit in music, even an encore, so for the karaoke and last song of the evening, Neko brought out her unexpected version of Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast." The singer alternated between yelling out the lyrics and singing the melodies, and let out a blood-curdling scream in the midst of all the chaos that included a killer solo from the guitarist. Much like the mysterious Neko, the evening held many unpredictable layers that revealed themselves throughout the night.

Critic's bias: I thought it was a lovely evening, but three guests was a little much to process. I would have loved to hear more music.

The crowd: An older crowd that was surprisingly into Iron Maiden.

Overheard in the crowd: When Neko admitted that she wrote two songs for The Hunger Games even though they had only asked for one, Rob quipped, "The second one was called 'Why is Lenny Kravitz in this movie?'"

Random notebook dump: There is nothing more awesome than seeing Neko Case mouthing the words to "Little Red Corvette" as Janey Winterbauer and John Munson were performing the song or a skit.

Hear this episode of Wits on MPR News, Saturday, May 18 at 8 PM and on 89.3 The Current, Sunday, May 19

To find out more about Wits and purchase tickets, visit

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