Peter Case’s “first show on the road in three years” recently found him at Jammin’ Java in the DMV. Since that last tour, he’s released two albums: last year’s The Midnight Broadcast, recorded before lockdown, and this year’s Doctor Moan, his first piano-driven album. His set covered material from his nearly 40-year solo career.
A longtime resident of San Francisco, Case grew up in Buffalo, New York. As he told the audience at Jammin’ Java on April 12, his father was much older; Peter was born in 1954, and his father saw Babe Ruth play baseball. (Ruth retired in 1935; there a people still alive who saw him play. They’re very old, but they’re around.) Peter dropped out of high school and set about pursuing his dreams of becoming a musician, eventually taking a bus out to San Francisco.
Peter began his set with “Every 24 Hours,” after which he made a sly joke about getting his distinctive hat at the “singer-songwriter supply shop.” He continued with “Everywhere I Go,” then talked about the part of the touring life that is “walking around a town you don’t know like an asshole,” as things have changed, old places have closed up and new ones have opened.
Peter’s two new albums place one foot in the past and one in the present. The Midnight Broadcast was a bit of a concept album. Mostly covers, it’s meant to imitate the old late-night broadband radio programs, programs that featured an eclectic mix of music you might not hear anywhere else. Case recorded the album at the Old Whaling Church on Martha’s Vineyard. The building, he said, had the greatest echo he’d ever heard in any space, almost too much, but they figured out how to manipulate by opening and closing doors. Doctor Moan, on the other hand, is an album of new material.
Watch the official music video for “Have You Ever Bee in Trouble” from Doctor Moan by Peter Case on YouTube:
Many of the tracks on The Midnight Broadcast, like the Memphis Minnie cover that came next, were old country-blues tunes. When I spoke to Peter, it was clear how much blues has influenced his work. Case’s set also included tunes by Jimmy Reed and Mance Lipscombe and a cover of Black Ivory King’s “The Flying Crow.”
While his parents weren’t professionals, they did play music. Peter displayed the style of harmonica his father played, which sounded, to my ear, a bit like music I associate with vaudeville and carnivals. Given what Peter said about his father’s age, that connection makes sense. For “Ice Water,” he said, “I put some of my words to it, but it’s his [my father’s] song.”
After “Underneath the Stars,” he dedicated “Everybody’s Got a Job To Do” to its co-writer, the late Bob Neuwirth. He mentioned Star Trek following “Entella Hotel;” Peter is a lifelong fan of science-fiction. He played a couple more tunes on guitar — “Comb My Hair” and “House Rent Party.” “Just Hangin’ On” was written in a Unitarian Church when he was just 15.
For the last part of his set, Peter switched from piano. He played several tracks from the new album, Doctor Moan: “Have You Ever Been In Trouble?”, “Downtown Nowhere Blues,” “Eyes of Love” and “Book Of Rules.” He told the story of the one time he met Bruce Springsteen, when he was playing the Marz club in New Jersey. He had his son with him on that tour, and they had been robbed of all their clothes, so they had purchased two very cheap pink t-shirts on the beach, which they were wearing when they met The Boss, who bought Peter’s underage son a drink. Bruce seems like a fun guy!
It’s a interesting life Peter leads, and one that has occasionally landed him in hot water. He ended the set with “Somebody Told The Truth,” about his true-life experience of being suspected of a crime. He got the crowd involved, singing along and clapping. Throughout the show, his voice sounded great, and there was as little rust as there could be after being off the road for so long. Peter is a pro, and he got right back on the horse where he left off three years ago.