Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Certain Songs #1299: Neko Case – “The Train From Kansas City (Live)” | Medialoper

Album: The Tigers Have Spoken
Year: 2004

Because it it’s always been seen as a stopgap between Blacklisted and the leveling-up of Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, Neko Case’s 2004 live album, The Tigers Have Spoken has always been kind of underrated.

But to me, it’s an absolutely essential record. Not only does it have many songs that aren’t on any of her other albums, it also contains my favorite Neko Case original — which we’ll talk about tomorrow — and my favorite Neko Case cover, her take on The Shangri-La’s “The Train From Kansas City,” which is one of the greatest songs ever written.

Baby, baby
Please believe me
I would never never do anything to hurt you

Baby, baby
Please believe me
I would never never do anything to you
To make you blue

I first heard “The Train From Kansas City” back in the late 1980s, when I picked up the debut from The Shop Assistants for reasons that escape me now. Maybe I was hoping for more of the punky girl-group rush that had made the Primitives Lovely record such an up, but maybe not, as the Shop Assistants debut came out before Lovely.

As it turned out, the only song I liked from that album was their cover of “The Train From Kansas City,” — which I promptly stuck on a mix tape and then filed away with the rest of the album. At the time, I didn’t really know anything about The Shangri-Las, outside of the fact that they’d done “Leader of The Pack” and that Aerosmith had covered “(Remember) Walking in the Sand” during the height of their coke years.

But yesterday I
Got this letter
From a boy I loved
Before I ever knew you
Before I even knew you

A few years later, it turned up on Superchunk’s awesome early singles compilation, but since that was a record that also contained bangers like “Garlic” and “Slack Motherfucker,” it kinda got buried, so it wasn’t until The Tigers Have Spoken that I truly realized what a fucked-up great song it really was.

It’s the oldest story in the world: girl has hometown boyfriend back in Kansas City; girl moves away from Kansas City and meets someone new and gets engages, without exactly telling the hometown boyfriend. And now, hometown boy has sent her a letter telling her that he’s coming to visit her, setting up a chorus for the ages:

And the train from Kansas City
Is coming into town
The train from Kansas City (is a comin’)
Nothing I can do can make it turn around

With Kelly Hogan right there with her, and backing band The Sadies alternating an almost psychedelic drumbeat with a chugging ramble, “Train From Kansas City” is absolutely unsparing in depicting a situation where nobody is going to escape unscathed.

Baby, baby
Please don’t worry
Nothing in this world could tear us apart
We’ll never, never part

So wait right here
And I will hurry
I’ll be back in the time it takes to break a heart
I gotta break his heart

Right? The narrator has probably been dreading this moment ever since she met the guy who ended up being her fiancee. The fiancee is no doubt blindsided by this news, and even if she broke it off cleanly with the hometown boy from KC when she left, he’s still going to have one helluva shock. Not nearly as bad as Waldo Jeffers got in “The Gift,” I guess, but who knows, that might actually be preferable.

Well, I never answered his letter
I just couldn’t tell him that way (oh yeah)
No, I never answered his letter
Cause I didn’t know what to say

Now I’m going down to the station
He’ll be there at ten after two (ooh yeah)
I’ll show him the ring on my finger
I don’t know what else I can do

I’ve never been in this situation, but I sure as shit know people who have, and there is no good resolution. After all, the choice is to break up with someone impersonally — via letter or phone or nowadays email or DM — or do it face to face, after they’ve spent a bunch of money and time to come and see someone they still assume loves them.

It’s totally and completely fucked up, and I love it so much. It’s such a great great pop song subject, and you can hear the fear and worry as Neko & Kelly sing at the very end.

Here comes the train
Here comes the train
Here comes the train

And that’s where “The Train From Kansas City” ends: she’s standing on the platform, the train is chugging into town, the fiancee is by himself, not knowing what’s going to happen, and KC boy is about to the shock of his young life.

Which is also the genius of “The Train From Kansas City:” it’s all set-up and how it all ends is anybody’s guess.

“The Train From Kansas City (Live)”

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