Without question, the biggest news on the local music front this week involves the lovely and talented Neko Case . The Northeast Kingdom resident — and two-time Grammy loser! (her words ) — has a pair of VT shows this weekend as she kicks off a brief Northeast tour. Interestingly, the second of those VT dates, at the Higher Ground Ballroom this Sunday, marks her first appearance at the club since “the incident,” when she infamously kept a sold-out crowd who had paid astronomical sums of money to see her waiting for, like, four hours before she finally showed up and totally sucked … whoops! Wrong incident. That was Lauryn Hill. My bad. Sorry, Neko.
Case’s incident at the club happened last year. Or didn’t happen, I guess. To refresh your memory , her old band, the New Pornographers, were touring their new album, Challengers, and had a show lined up at the Ballroom. B-town fans, both of Case and the NPs, were quite justifiably excited, as the show would mark Case’s first Queen City appearance since moving to VT the year before. But then something went horribly wrong.
Despite being at the club for the sound check, Case never made it to the stage for the show, a vacant mic standing where she should have been. Long story short, people were freakin’. Some even demanded their money back due to Case’s no-show — oddly enough, no one who cried “refund!” seemed to mention that vocalist/guitarist Dan Bejar , who is arguably a more critical component to NP than Case, also went missing. Dude writes, like, half the songs. What’s a guy gotta do to get some respect?
(Weird concidence, Bejar’s girlfriend is a Vancouver-based songwriter named Sydney Vermont . No kidding.)
Anyway, you may recall that the official word from the Case camp was “food poisoning” — note the sarcastic quotation marks denoting skepticism — which most folks accepted as a “perfectly reasonable” and “legit excuse” for missing the gig … ahem.
Not surprisingly, the explanation didn’t satisfy everyone — or, more accurately, anyone. I actually bought it, though. What can I say? I’m a sucker for redheads. Also, I haven’t heard any other valid theories about why she’d simply bail. Just doesn’t make sense, especially in light of how anticipated the show was locally.
(If I could chat privately with Neko for a sec: Neko, by this point you’re probably like, Holy shit. These people are still talking about this? Get a life.” They are, they should and, I know, it’s crazy. But we Yankees are notorious for holding grudges. Welcome to New England. Call me!)
But enough about the past. Sunday’s HG show is clearly the big-ticket item in the Burlington area. However, it’s actually the lesser of Case’s two Vermont performances this weekend.
Friday at Lyndon State College’s Alexander Twilight Theatre, Case is headlining a charity show for St. Johnsbury’s Catamount Arts  entitled “Storytelling?” The singer curated the night to be something of a variety show, and an exploration of the art of storytelling in various forms. To wit, she’s billing the show as “An Evening of Performance, Poetry and Puppetry.” Perfect.
Fulfilling the last part of that alliterative hat trick is Chicago-based troupe One-Degree Off , performing a paper shadow-puppet adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic “Jabberwocky” — because that poem isn’t weird enough. Also on the poetry angle, and also from the Windy City, artist and bard Tony Fitzpatrick  will read choice selections of his own poetry, as well as leading a discussion on the art of storytelling.
Rounding out the performance, and joining Case for the remainder of her tour, are Kentucky/Chi-Town-based Thrill Jockey signees, Freakwater . I love this band. And if you’re a fan of close-harmonizin’ female duos who uniquely marry classic Americana templates to modern storytelling devices, you will, too. True story.
While we’re telling stories, among my favorite tales of the past year was the ascension of the Vermont Joy Parade  and, to some degree by extension, songwriter Anna Pardenik . Pardenik raised her profile during last summer’s Discover Jazz Fest  with her band, VJP offshoot the Holy Smoke Off. Following that, Pardenik and the VJP released one of the finer local albums of this or any other year, Kicking Sawdust . After a summer of VJP touring, Pardenik and band cofounder Benny Strosberg left VT for Europe, where they reside currently, and we haven’t really heard from the band since. Until now, that is. This Saturday, four-sixths of the Vermont Joy Parade will reunite at Radio Bean for a late-night hootenanny to benefit their veggie-oil-powered tour bus. They’ll need it in good working condition when Pardenik and Strosberg return from Europe to tour with the band this summer. Stay tuned…
Local rockers Reverse Neutral Drive  will have a new look and sound when they take the stage at Burlington’s Manhattan Pizza & Pub this Saturday. Founding guitarist Paul Comegno has left the group to focus his efforts on filling Dylan Giambatista’s shoes in Rough Francis . In his stead, RND have enlisted Berklee-trained Boston transplant Greg Allison on … violin? How urbane! RND’s Geoff Bennington writes that Allison has drastically changed the group’s sound and “given us some fresh energy.” Color me curious.
Band Name of the Week: Teleport . Also on the bill at Manhattan this Saturday are newbie Montpelier outfit Teleport. I had a chance to catch these guys at a Magic Hat reunion party a few weeks ago (full disclosure — once upon a time, we worked together at MH) and, I gotta say, I came away impressed. One, they were awfully tight for a new band, which is less surprising when you find out they used to play together as the Year’s Best back in the day. And two, they mine inspiration from the synth-driven pop-rock of Loggins and Messina without a shred of irony … and it works. Really. And that fact may be less surprising when you learn that bassist Sean Martin has tattoos of Daryl Hall and John Oates, respectively, on each of his forearms. (Note to Teleport: I demand you learn and cover the theme song from the 1986 movie Rad.)
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Pariah Beat . The genre-jumping, Thetford-based outfit last assaulted our eager ears in 2008 with an excellent full-length, Pariah Beat Radio. They’re back this weekend with another fine addition to their canon, Bury Me Not. Catch them this Friday at the greatest bar in the world, or at least Montpelier, Charlie O’s, or Saturday at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction.
Seasonal affective disorder got you down? Starting Wednesday, January 26, at the Skinny Pancake, local soul man Joshua Panda  may have the sonic tonic to cure what ails you, as he begins a four-week Wednesday-night stint he’s dubbed “Joshua Panda’s Vermont Winter Waltz Residency.” And if that doesn’t work, try whiskey.
Finally, in my first column of the new year year, I made a plea for every local band to have a high-resolution press picture taken of themselves. It’s really easy to do, and it helps your friendly neighborhood music scribe out tremendously — I’m often at a loss for interesting, high-quality pics of local acts, which I always prefer to run when given a choice. Anyway, thanks to cosmic Americana outfit Red Hot Juba  as the first local act to oblige, for which they win … their picture in the paper! (See how this works?) I should note they lose points for directly violating my rule banning “band on a wall” pics. But at this point, I’ll take what I can get. You can catch Juba at the Monkey House this Friday.
Once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.
Braids , Native Speaker
Smith Westerns , Dye It Blonde
Colin Stetson , New History Warefare Vol. 2: Judges
Fergus & Geronimo , Unlearn
Flight of the Conchords , I Told You I Was Freaky