LIVE: Neko Case @ the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 3/5/16

Review by Steven Stock

A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall… Whoops, hold on, that’s actually Neko Case’s exceptionally talented (and rather hirsute) backing trio joining her onstage: longtime associates Tom V. Ray on double bass and Jon Rauhouse on lap steel and other assorted guitars flanking the redheaded singer, guitarist (and Crooked Fingers mastermind) Eric Bachmann modestly to the rear.

Drummer and new papa Dan Hunt sat this tour out in order to change diapers, and Case’s longtime foil Kelly Hogan was also absent, working on her own record. Moreover, Case wasn’t plugging a new record – this brief tour was ostensibly intended to promote Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, a remastered vinyl-only box set compiling her eight studio albums. All of which combined to make for an interesting and slightly atypical concert experience: although Case is only 45 years old, this show served as a career retrospective of sorts, lacking only a song or two from side project New Pornographers.

Opening with “Outro with Bees,” Case declared a couple of notes “unfortunate” but quickly hit her stride with “Hold On, Hold On” and the gorgeous country-inflected “Bought and Sold”:

Nobody said that love was going to be kind
But they did say it was magical as it was divine
I wish I could leave it behind, lost love

A lot of Case’s songs trot along at a comfortable mid-tempo lope, so the subsequent up-tempo rave “Man” provided a welcome jolt of acoustic energy. “Vengeance Is Sleeping” featured some lovely fingerpicking, with dark lyrics that segued nicely into the ominous “Ghost Wiring.” Case often played guitar so the quartet put out a surprisingly full sound, sometimes augmented by Ray using a foot-pedal cymbal for syncopation.

Other highlights included the decidedly unsentimental “I’m From Nowhere,” “The Needle Has Landed,” a lilting rendition of “Maybe Sparrow” and longtime fan favorite “Margaret vs. Pauline.” Aside from her original material, Case also played four impressive cover versions: the old torch song “Look for Me (I’ll Be Around),” Scott Walker’s “Duchess,” a duet with Bachmann on the moving Crooked Fingers’ piece “Sleep All Summer” and finally Sook-Yin Lee’s “Knock Loud.”

Up next for Case: a 14-track collaboration with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs (case/lang/veirs) is due June 17, with the trio hitting the road on June 22. Their Newport Folk Festival appearance is already sold out, so Nippertown residents can choose between Lowell on July 23 or Brooklyn on July 26 if they consider this a must-see.

Opener Jennifer O’Connor did have a new album to plug, Surface Noise. She’s got a sweet unassuming voice but if you listen closely, O’Connors’ lyrics have a certain sting – she’s awful good at dissecting relationships in just a few cutting lines. Her guitar playing was intriguing as well, with a certain angular untutored quality that likely took her years to perfect. With minimalist backing from Jon Langmead on drums and keyboards and Tom Beaujour on bass and guitar, O’Connors’ appeal relied more on the strength of her songwriting rather than any dazzling showmanship: an acquired taste that just may be worth acquiring.

Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Case’s sheer sound was so sumptuous it almost distracted from her songcraft. Early highlights ‘Hold On Hold On’ and the speed-to-a-gallop ‘Man,’ and the later ‘Duchess,’ could/should be country hits; while ‘Vengeance is Sleeping’ alt-rocked to dramatic effect. ‘Ghost Wiring’ explored the concept of home in the waltz-time used in many songs, and ‘This Tornado Loves You’ boasted a high flourish that used every molecule of Case’s voice; so did the wordless coda in the set-closing ‘Sparrow’ … Without drums or longtime vocal partner Kelly Hogan (off working on her own project, Case praised/lamented), her songs sounded both more sparse and dynamic than on record, though perhaps no more emotionally exposed, as she’s a contained vocalist for the most part.”

Outro With Bees
Hold On, Hold On
Bought And Sold
Vengeance Is Sleeping
Ghost Wiring
This Tornado Loves You
Look for Me (I’ll Be Around)
Nothing to Remember
I’m From Nowhere
Night Still Comes
At Last
Duchess (Scott Walker)
The Needle Has Landed
Middle Cyclone
Maybe Sparrow
Lady Pilot
Sleep All Summer (Crooked Fingers)
Margaret vs. Pauline
Knock Loud (Sook-Yin Lee)

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