I can’t review a Neko Case show—to review something implies impartiality, which I’m just not capable of with Case’s music. It was the perfect ending to a joyfully surreal day that started with me heading to Reckless to pick up the new Swans record, which I then listened to in its entirety before heading to a friend’s house to drink a bunch of awesome homebrewed beer and then on to the show. Between this show and the new Swans record was the knock-out punch to lift me out of a recurring funk that I’ve been falling in and out of over the past few months.
Her new record’s release last year saw me feeling a bit ambivalent initially—my first listen wasn’t necessarily a delirious one and I was completely confused and underwhelmed by the single ‘Man.’ I ended up buying the record digitally and then falling in love with it right before the holiday season and can now honestly say, without any stars in my eyes, that ‘The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, The More That I Love You’ is her best record since ‘Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.’ When her set started off at the Chicago Theater it sounded a bit rickety to me, until Kelly Hogan announced ‘We’re going to play a make-out song now,’ before the band launched into ‘Lion’s Jaws’ which has been a favorite of mine since I first heard ‘Fox Confessor…’ (it’s those heavenly backing vocals) and it was the moment right near the beginning of every Neko Case show that I’ve been to where I end up thinking, ‘Well, there’s your money’s worth right there—three songs in.’ She remains one of the only artists I’ve been listening to for as long where this is true—in 2007 it happened three songs in when she played ‘Favorite,’ in 2009 it was after ‘Middle Cyclone’ and this time it was ‘Lion’s Jaws,’ which I’ve always wanted to hear live and it was absolutely flawless.
Her current live band has swapped in Eric Bachman of Crooked Fingers for long time live guitarist Paul Rigby and the band has more of a minimalist sound than it did before, which suits the new material perfectly. Bachman is also able to switch between keyboards and formidable backing vocal duties as well. They played all of the new record apart from only a couple of songs, a good chunk of ‘Fox Confessor…’ as well as several from 2009’s ‘Middle Cyclone.’ ‘Deep Red Bells’ from ‘Blacklisted’ and ‘Set Out Running’ from ‘Furnace Room Lullabye’ made an appearance as well. To call this set ‘generous’ is a bit of an understatement—by the end of the night the band had played for more than an hour-and-a-half and with plenty of surprises—I had no idea that Case had a song on ‘The Hunger Games’ soundtrack. Her first of two encores featured a duet with Bachman on Crooked Fingers track ‘Sleep All Summer.’ Starkness was the name of the game and it worked beautifully.
This show brings me to another rather surreal phenomena—people bringing their children to concerts. It seems like I can’t go anywhere I used to without being in the presence of tons of children, which I suppose reflects my age group more than anything else. I was in a lone seat up in the box section of the lower balcony—very comfortable and roomy—in the booth behind me was a family of four. In the end it wasn’t any more annoying than I usually find general crowd behavior, there are always people at shows to talk loudly and obliviously during quiet sections of songs to interrupt the trance you’ve been blissfully falling into. At least these were kids and their parents were trying to keep them quiet during the show—perhaps they were trying to teach their kids this type of etiquette at a young age. It was hilarious to hear Neko deliver so much profanity-laced onstage banter while hearing these tiny voices behind me asking their mother to explain what was being said. Then there was the fact that Case performed ‘Nearly Midnight, Honolulu’ after which someone yelled out ‘THAT WAS FUCKING AMAZING!’ ‘Yeah,’ Neko replied, ‘Chicago Tribune—one line—Neko Case at the Chicago Theater—“That was fucking amazing!”’ My favorite moment in this regard remains when Case declared into the microphone, ‘Now I’ve got a camel toe to go with these awesome pants,’ and once the gales of laughter died down I enjoyed the delight of hearing the mother of a seven-year-old girl trying to innocently explain what a camel toe was. They also left at the beginning of the first encore, ‘It’s time for bed,’ the mother cooed to her children.