Neko Case started out punk, but she's back in the heartland

Some gals just can't catch a break.

While performing at the venerable Grand Ole Opry this past summer, Northwest country siren Neko Case doffed her shirt in an effort to keep from wilting in the oppressive heat. The Opry promptly banned her from their stage for life. No word on what was under the shirt.

Frankly, it's the Opry's loss: Case is just the kind of fiery, charismatic artist who would help cleanse the country palate after years of Nashville catering to the big hat-headset mike bunch.

Case, 32, has lived all over the country but considers Tacoma her hometown. Currently, she's based in Chicago. After breaking into showbiz in 1994 as a drummer with a punk rock group called Maow, Case gave into her rural inclinations and put out two high-spirited, rollicking country albums: 'The Virginian' in 1997 and 'Furnace Room Lullaby' in 2000.

Her latest effort, 'Blacklisted' (Bloodshot Records), is a more somber record than the previous two. The forlorn tone is established on the leadoff cut, 'Things That Scare Me,' as Case puts a graceful, arcing vocal about impending doom over a pile of racing string-pickers.

'Outro With Bees' is a quiet, fragile moment, with Case's resigned vocal barely propped up by piano and cello. On 'Pretty Girls,' she fiercely tries to sing some courage into her heartbroken comrades.

The arrangements here are downright skeletal. Case employs just a few players on each track, giving the music an echoing, lonesome feel. Fortunately, she picks her players well: Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico are present, as is Howe Gelb from Giant Sand. Mary Margaret O'Hara and the always-sensational Kelly Hogan contribute heavenly backing vocals.

This is definitely a gray day record, but when sad songs are played and sung correctly, the effect is uplifting. Those Nashville cats should be calling Ms. Case back any time now.

Neko Case plays at 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Aladdin Theater, 3017 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., 503-233-1994; $14; also available through Ticketmaster (503-224-4400), subject to service charges.

Savage sounds

Long time, no hear. Twenty-two years ago, a bunch of rambunctious UCLA students established a rather challenging group called Savage Republic. The band released several studio and live records in the '80s before splitting up at the end of the decade. Their sound was an abrasive collage of tribal percussive mayhem welded to a pallet of industrial shocks and screams, all driven by punk's rejection of mainstream art and politics.

San Francisco's Mobilization label has done us all a favor with a 4-CD box set of this underappreciated group, which includes high-water mark albums such as their 1982 debut, 'Tragic Figures,' and 1988's thunderous 'Jamahiriya.'

Savage Republic has re-formed for a short time in support of the box set and are playing a mere five shows across America. As luck would have it, one of them is at our own greenhouse of punk culture, Satyricon.

Savage Republic plays at

9:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at Satyricon, 125 N.W. Sixth Ave., 503-243-2380, $10 advance from Fastixx (503-224-8599), subject to service charges.

The Sights

Got What We Want

(Fall of Rome)

The problem with power pop records is that you either get too much power or too much pop. Power chords Ñ without sneaky melodic hooks Ñ get old real fast. Brisk changes and rampant melodicism have a longer shelf life, but without some muscle to back them up, we remain unmoved. The Sights, though, have this problem licked.

This plucky trio from Detroit strikes a crucial balance between garage-rock rush and British Invasion's sticky charm. 'Don't Want You Back' falls somewhere between Cheap Trick and Badfinger: Tough-boy harmonies lock down over unpredictable riffage that culminates in a triumphant chorus and clocks in at just a breath over three minutes.

'Sorry Revisited' sounds like the work of English dandies Ñ but with just enough steroids mixed in with the tea and crumpets.

The Sights have it all going for them: shaggy haircuts, a sackful of great songs and the uncanny ability to rock our heads as well as our hips.

The Sights play at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Blackbird, 3728 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-282-9949, $8.

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