September 12, 2013
Had she not mentioned it, you probably never would have known that Neko Case was suffering from an annoying head cold at her nearly sold-out show last night at Phoenix's lovely Orpheum Theater. Her sickness showed no intentions of betrayal to her glorious voice as she owned the room beginning to end, delivering nearly 20 songs with the haunting perfection that has garnered a devoted, often rabid, following.
When Neko and her band launched the night with "Where Did I Leave That Fire" from her new release, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, it was hard to keep the tingles at bay as she offered those universal lyrics reflective of that personal pain that inspires the desire to, in some or any way, just fucking disappear: "A chill ran through me / And I grabbed on tight / That was when I left my body for good / And I shook off all the strength I'd earned / I wanted so badly not to be me."
As she closed the first tune, Neko greeted the audience with a friendly and earnest thanks and went into another new one, "Bracing for Sunday," letting some the saxophonist weave a little extra magic into the song. With Case and her band, it's the sincerity that drives the whole live experience home.
You've got her angelic voice that tells tales that revolve around life's mixed bag of hope and desperation, a team of ridiculously talented musicians, and a real refreshing air of honesty and truth. She referred to the whole team, a couple of times, as a family, and that is exactly what it felt like. Fun, feisty, even corny at times; all the familiarity and comfort that exists in real families, however they are defined.
Case's relationship with her background vocalist Kelly Hogan is, itself, a treat. The two bantering like sisters generated a few good laughs and Case was definitely comfortable with letting Hogan shine both via her vocals and her great, spirited nature. Their voices fit together like pieces in some ethereal puzzle, at times lilting, other times twang-tinged; always righteous, with a power only magnified by their union.
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The band, including steel guitar and banjo master Jon Rauhouse from Tempe, was a combined force of skills and soul. You could see and feel each member's innate love of the art of playing and the music at hand.
The set featured a nice blend of new stuff and older material; of the latter, "Deep Red Bells" was a highlight with its choir-y, hymn-like sensibilities -- completely provocative and intoxicating. "Maybe Sparrow" was another old one that inspired a cheer from the audience as it began.
They closed the night with the tough and driving "Man" before coming back out for two encores. The first go around, Case did the a cappella "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu," a heart-destroying song about a mother's brutal, harsh words to a child, followed by "Set Out Running" and "Red Tide."
It didn't seem like anyone was ready to go home and those yelps and claps were honored with a second encore of "I Wish I Was the Moon" from Blacklisted, a mesmerizing, stays-under-your-skin type of song that was more than fitting to close down the night.
If that was too intense a note to leave on, audience members had a few laughs to take home, too, like Case's admittance after a song that she swallowed some snot: "I ate a booger for you, Phoenix." Now, that's sweet devotion.
More pictures and the set list after the break
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Set List: Where Did I Leave that Fire? Bracing for Sunday Lion's Jaws Deep Red Bells That Teenage Feeling Ragtime People Got a Lotta Nerve Local Girl Maybe Sparrow City Swans Wild Creatures Calling Cards Hold On, Hold On Night Still Comes Man Encores: Nearly Midnight, Honolulu Set Out Running Red Tide I Wish I Was the Moon