Saturday, November 2, 2013

Live Show Review: Neko Case - 10/31/13

Neko Case
Date:  October 31, 2013
Venue:  Lincoln Theater, Washington, DC

Every year it seems, in a subconscious effort to give myself a little break from the aggressive rock and electronic music that typically gets my adrenaline pumping, I gravitate to some form of innocuous, vaguely acoustic, pretty music.  I call it "chicken soup" music, and it usually comes in the form of some kind of tepid contemporary "Americana."  Nice melodies, nice singing, a lil' bit country, a lil' bit rock & roll - major plus for some pedal or lap-steel guitar.  Whatever evokes windswept southwestern deserts or misty Appalachian hills.  In recent years it's been Robert Plant with Alison Krauss, Patty Griffin, or Calexico.  This time it's Neko Case, who just put out a graceful new record called The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.

What is this, a concert for ants?!

The veteran alterna-country/indie-pop singer played two nights at the Lincoln Theater on U Street in Washington, DC, this past week.  I was looking forward to experiencing my first ever show at the historic Lincoln on Halloween - however, despite the obvious beauty of the structure itself, I was a little disappointed with the place.  Our seats were in the balcony quite a ways back from the stage, and the slope of the floor was too shallow to allow for a clear sight-line.  I spent most of the show on the edge of my seat, back stretched, neck craned, struggling to see over people's heads.  Since we were close to the ceiling of the cavernous theater it was also pretty hot up there, and the venue's PA and acoustics were less than impressive - leaving Neko Case and her band sounding a little shrill and distorted at times. 

Despite hitting the faux-cobweb covered stage later than posted, Neko Case and her backing band were in good spirits (Halloween pun fully intended), all dressed in costume with Case herself dressed as Adam Ant circa '82 - "If you think I'm a pirate, then you're a damned fool!" she announced boldly.  With Neko's self-assured vocals leading the way, she and the band casually ran through a variety of tunes from The Worse Things Get and older records too.  Chirpy "This Tornado Loves You" from Middle Cyclone drew cheers, as did a jaunty rendition of her new single "Man," but the most arresting performances were reserved for slower, uncluttered selections like the pedal-steel drenched "I Wish I Was The Moon" from Blacklisted - letting Case's distinctive voice shine through with just the slightest country twang.

Sort of.  Neko Case, dressed as Adam Ant.

I'd waited years to hear Neko Case live and wondered if she could match some of the stunning work she'd committed to wax.  Again, I was a little let down.  Case occasionally strained with the high notes and sounded a bit shout-y at points (stepping back from the mic a little might've helped).  She and her backup singer Kelly Hogan also bantered frequently and lengthily, with each other and with the audience, drawing hoots and giggles throughout the concert hall - but the loose atmosphere and verbal horseplay led to a few sloppy performances where Case flubbed verses or missed marks entirely.

That drunken goofball energy was channeled more effectively during the encore where Neko Case and the band covered Adam Ant's bouncy "Place in the Country" and a couple of Heart's 70's era hits.  Kelly Hogan impressively took lead on "Barracuda" while Case closed out with an exuberant take on "Crazy on You."  I was hoping for Iron Maiden's "Number of The Beast," in keeping with the Halloween vibe, but we can't always get what we want.

Neko Case has been in the game for quite a while, and she's certainly got a long bright career ahead of her.  I just hope she can tighten up her live show and deliver on some of the promises made by her recorded music.  I frequently get chills listening to Neko Case on the hi-fi (and even get a little choked up too - "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" off the new album is brutal), so why wasn't that happening at the live show?  Maybe next time.            

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