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Neko Case, Salvador Duran, Mariachi Los Potrillos

Rialto Theatre, Thursday, Nov. 15

When Neko Case penned an essay for this month's issue of Poetry magazine, she titled it "My Flaming Hamster Wheel of Panic About Publicly Discussing Poetry in This Respected Forum." (You can read her essay at the Poetry Web site.)

The title may have been self-deprecating for the purpose, but a live music venue is clearly much more within her comfort zone. Her performance last Thursday made the Rialto feel as cozy as a living room, and Case was happy to be on familiar ground. "It's really exciting to be with my band, because I've been touring with the (New) Pornographers for three months," she said, before launching into a hilarious vision of Jon Rauhouse responding to her call on the "red telephone," jumping out of a U-boat and hopping a jet for the show.

Chicago chanteuse Kelly Hogan joined Case for the set as a vocalist and a bon mot volley partner. The quick-witted duo could have second careers as comedy writers, but then they would've been on strike.

After Case's cover of Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain," Hogan quipped, "Many people have made a career on just that song." Hogan also provided moral support through Case's two false starts on "Favorite." "I've never played a song more than I have that song," Case said good-naturedly. She first recorded it on 2001's Canadian Amp. When she rang past the problem on the third try, it brought the house down.

Case's set drew heavily from her 2006 Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, including "Margaret Vs. Pauline," "Dirty Knife," "Star Witness" and the soaring "Maybe Sparrow," which accentuates the honeyed elasticity of her range. But she also dipped into Blacklisted for "I Wish I Was the Moon" and "Deep Red Bells," and Furnace Room Lullaby for "Set Out Running."

Case's encore drew from tradition with the enchanting standard "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)," and her rousing, handclapping version of the spiritual "John Saw That Number."

The evening was a benefit for the border humanitarian organization No More Deaths, and Case donated her entire fee to the cause. Opener Salvador Duran peppered his set with shouts of "No Mas Muertes" to cheers and applause from the many border activists and supporters among the 850 present. First opener was Cholla High School's Mariachi Los Potrillos, who performed with musicianship and poise beyond their years.

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