Hugh’s Room, Toronto, Sept. 23, 2013
At this stage in his 38+ year career, Peter Case remains the ultimate party guest. Shuffling onto the stage in his tweed jacket, music folder in hand, he presents a somewhat disheveled look, not unlike a shorter-haired version of Warren Haynes after a bender, his long, elfin beard resembling something you’d see on a lawn ornament. However, a few phrases into “Put Down The Gun”, delivered with passion as he talked and sang his way through it, Case revealed the rich character that has propelled him through everything he’s done. For many, Case remains a power pop icon. In his essence, as a singer-songwriter, he continues to raise his voice and shake his fist, championing the downtrodden and making a difference with his music. It would seem that he’s happily soaking in the same piss’n’vinegar he started with – and he’s pickling quite nicely, thank you. A brilliant, largely unheralded songwriter – as proven across his tenure as both band leader and solo performer – Case’s other secret ingredient remains his smart, sneering, somewhat nasal, slightly Lennon-esque voice. From “Estella Hotel” with its “garden of earthly delights” to Full Service, No Waiting’s “Crooked Mile”, Case began to open up to his audience, endearingly so, against a backdrop of fingerstyle guitar revealing his deep-rooted love of the blues. Adding a pair of dark, professorial glasses to his wardrobe, he began to blend a little history, telling humourous stories and song-related anecdotes to the delight of the crowd.
Pulling out his 12-string guitar for the comparatively raucous “House Rent Party”, the full sound of his guitar and full-throated vocal proved positively robust, shaking off any dust you might’ve expected from your typical troubadour. Because, although he may now ply his trade on a club-by-club, solo basis, Case has always been a balls-to-the-walls proponent of his power-pop beginnings – from the days of his membership in Moustache Sandwich, Pig Nation, or the more familiar Nerves and the criminally-overlooked Plimsouls. Since then, Case has crafted 11 delicious recordings which have attracted a who’s who of bigger name talent to their making – people who have, as friends or fans, simply wanted to rub shoulders with him. The acid test is, of course, the songs themselves – which are bona fide works of art on a one-to-one basis, but which fully blossom in the context of the musicians he builds around them. Yet, when Case rips into a slow blues beauty like “Old Car Blues”, he stills any room with the superb quality of both his exceptional voice and his accomplished, equally-emotive guitar-playing.
Always having wanted to be “an itinerant blues singer”, Case acknowledged that he’s really had no drive at all, career-wise, before breaking into “Broke Down Engine” – beginning to have some fun with it. This was followed by two fantastic new compositions – thus far title-less and unrecorded and two of the evening’s high points. Setting up the song, “Walk In The Woods”, Case entertained the crowd with hilarious tales surrounding the sorts of horror stories he has lived in his post-show ‘accommodations’ (to use the word lightly). As he played, you could see him getting lost, trance-like, in the guitar parts, clearly enjoying himself.
Moving over to piano, Case dipped into an older Dylan track, “Black Crow Blues”, and a Jimmy Reed single, “Caress Me, Baby” – both played in a wonderfully bluesy style. With his trusty 6-string in tow, Case performed another of the evening’s highlights in “Underneath The Stars”, followed by another, “Ain’t Gonna Worry No More”. Telling of a song he penned after a Toronto Ultrasound show, later recorded with Richard Thompson, he lit into the spunky “The World Turns Every 24 Hours”, revealing yet another facet of his vocal strengths. By request, he performed what has to be one of his most perfect compositions, “Blue Distance” from Flying Saucer Blues, followed by “Cold Trail Blues”, from the same album, also recorded by Chris Smither. Another Dylan cover, “Long Time Gone”, accompanying himself on 12-string with its full orchestral effect, he closed the show with Robert Johnson’s “Steady Rollin’ Man”, digging into the simple blues classic to mine a hard-played, thick and muddy groove.
He hadn’t quite left the stage before he was called back for more, ending with “The Words In Red” – as if he needed to do anything more to completely win over his rapt audience.