LIVE: Neko Case @ The Egg, 1/15/18

Review by Steven Stock

Neko Case seemed relaxed and happy to be performing at The Egg again, affectionately teasing guitarist Jon Rauhouse as he battled the flu, then joking with her longtime comic foil (and occasional backing singer) Kelly Hogan. Case was struck by how attentive and appreciative the crowd was, dubbing us “tender Albany.”

Yet for all the goodwill and bonhomie between songs, the cumulative impact of the night’s set list was pretty harrowing, from the opening “Nothing to Remember” to the closing “Night Still Comes.” If this were a lecture, it might have been called “The Case Against Love.” Case showed some awareness of her choices, introducing a spooky downcast rendition of Catherine Irwin’s “Hex” with “Here’s another cheerer-upper.”

Fortunately, the proceedings were considerably enlivened by how effectively Case and her band varied the arrangements from song to song. Rauhouse had his usual arsenal of guitars, so every weepie pedal-steel
country ballad like “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” was offset by more up-tempo fare such as “Man.” Tom V. Ray similarly switched from acoustic double bass to electric bass, occasionally playing a single drum with his foot. Case sometimes donned a guitar, as did second backing vocalist Nora O’Connor. No drummer, and honestly no need for one.

“Nothing to Remember” was a compelling start, with the opening couplet – “I spent my life becoming invisible
It’s hard to maintain, and it’s hard to get by” – sounding somehow both defiant and resigned. When Hogan and O’Connor joined Case in singing harmony the effect was mesmerizing. I’d have been tempted to slather every song with the trio’s gorgeous harmonies, but Case employed them judiciously, heightening their impact when they reappeared on a dramatic version of “Bought and Sold.”

“I didn’t write this song, but it’s also super fucked-up,” said Case as she introduced the Sylvia Dee/Guy Woods lament, “Look for Me (I’ll Be Around),” first heard on Sarah Vaughan’s 1963 masterpiece The Lonely Hours. It’s worth noting here just how accomplished a singer Case is. She’s got an extremely powerful instrument, and she’s capable of impressive vocal gymnastics, but she also know when to hold back a little, and let the words speak for themselves. Come back soon Neko, tender Albany awaits your return…

Openers Mt. Joy are a quintet with an appealing twin-guitar attack. Their original material was solid, but I was especially struck by their cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” which featured a robust arrangement that made it far more uplifting than the original.

Nothing to Remember
Furnace Room Lullaby
The Needle Has Landed
A Widow’s Toast
Bought and Sold
Margaret vs. Pauline
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Look for Me (I’ll Be Around)
This Tornado Loves You
Lion’s Jaws
Nearly Midnight, Honolulu
Outro with Bees
Lady Pilot
Hold On Hold On
Knock Loud
Maybe Sparrow
Night Still Comes

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