Neko Case fires things up for Orpheum crowd
At the Orpheum on Friday, September 20.
The homecoming show is such a well-beloved staple that Vancouverites will more than gladly extend the "welcome back" vibes to Virginia-born Neko Case each time she hits town. It makes sense, though, with the musician's ascent starting about 20 years ago performing with cub and Maow, later with her country-tinged solo work, and eventually with local pop supergroup the New Pornographers. Though members of that troupe were seen in attendance, it was the solo songs that Case belted out for an adoring crowd at the Orpheum Theatre last Friday.
Up first, though, were tour openers Wake Owl, whose own hometown performance was unfortunately riddled with reverb. The quartet's patchwork of late-night plastic soul, lounge licks and indie-folk occasionally offered salient sound bites, but a muddied mix more often than not buried everything beneath the echo of silk-bloused frontman Colyn Cameron's tender tenor .
Though Wake Owl's set ran a little undercooked, Case's honey-smoked vocals warmed up the crowd when she and the rest of her six-piece band smouldered into their first song "Where Did I Leave That Fire?", from the just-released The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
After the rest of her crew set up a moody orchestral drone full of guitars, cymbals, and boot spurs, the tartan-panted Case came through with soul-searching lyrics like "I saw my shadow looking lost". All the same, she looked brilliant and in command beneath the spotlight at centre-stage, where she would stand and sway all night, save the occasional moment to pick up a guitar or tambourine.
Her hearty, countrified croon further enveloped every cranny of the Orpheum atop the steady, brush-shuffler "This Tornado Loves You" and new number "Bracing for Sunday", while backup vocalist Kelly Hogan supported her captain with a series of angelic "ahhhs" and countermelodies.
The pair also cracked wise between songs, often joking about the road crew's current bout with on-tour illness. "I'm peaked," Case quipped while taking a breather, before she and Hogan talked menopause. The Virginian made the point moot, though, confessing about her fertility "My eggs are just coming out of my pores. It's like a Tapioca pudding bath."
A forever young spirit soaked itself into Fox Confessor Brings the Flood's "That Teenage Feeling", a rootsy waltz aided by the gentle banjo picking of jack-of-all-trades Jon Rauhouse. Later, he'd drop some searing pedal-steel work on a damn-near tear-inducing "Set Out Running", and karate chop the instrument during "Deep Red Bells".
While the night heavily favoured alt-country sounds, a Byrds-style jangle prevailed throughout "Hold On, Hold On", and Case and Crooked Fingers/Archers of Loaf vet Eric Bachmann delivered distortion-dialling power chords on anthemic regular set closer "Man", easily the night's punchiest pop song.
Case came back to the stage for an encore and threatened the crowd with some "free-form scatting", with Hogan affably playing along by noting "I'm just going to follow your lips. I always do." After sharing another laugh, though, they busted out a jaw-dropping a capella for "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu", the f-bomb heavy heartbreaker reaching it's zenith with "They won't believe you when you say : 'My mother she did not love me.' " The full band then returned for a breezy "Local Girl", which had Case handling a pair of ebon-and-silver tambourines that looked "murdery but Christmassy at the same time".
After Case once again gave a shout-out to her sickness-stricken crew, including one member the crowd was told was desperately trying their best not to crap their pants on the tour bus, the admittedly phlegm-filled Case led her bandmates through a particularly feverish and fuzzy finale of "Red Tide". And the harder they fought, the more the crowd loved them.