Liberty Hall, Lawrence, KS
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
There seems to be general consensus that Neko Case is an extraordinarily talented singer and songwriter, but if you've never seen her perform live before (or heard her on NPR's Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me), you might not know that she's also laugh-out-loud funny. And beautiful (come on - not fair). No wonder Liberty Hall was packed last night.
Case opened her set coolly and darkly with "Where Did I Leave that Fire," off her most recent album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, material from which was featured heavily throughout the evening.
She then proceeded to just drip with wit and charm, thanks in part to the sharp tongue of her bandmate, the singer-songwriter Kelly Hogan. Hogan quipped, "Normally when we come to a town we eat all of the food. Here I think we bought all of your books. You are, were, book rich."
"You bought that beautiful picture book of the catacombs," she said to Case. "I bought the Mötley Crüe autobiography." The two then launched into a brief improv session, doing bits as olde tyme Tommy Lee. "All the bosoms laid out before me," said Case. "Were I a poor man t'would have been a feast."
Set highlights included "Maybe Sparrow" - it is a strong example of that wit, as well as the vocal range and clarity of tone that makes Case such a powerful and exceptional performer (also happened to be the song that the audience seemed to most want to hear). Perhaps the two strongest songs of the entire set were also the most different: "Man," an uptempo, guitar-heavy anthem, and "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu," an a capella song, which was the first number performed once the band returned for the first of two encores. "Man" is just plain fun - and one of the only truly uptempo songs of the evening. The very mellow, older-leaning crowd almost danced, even.
"Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" is a sharp turn away from "Man." The song tells a personal story about an experience that Case had in the Honolulu airport, where she witnessed a mother shouting at her young child - "Like I couldn't hear her," said Case, to "'Get the fuck away from me! Why don't you ever shut up?'" The experience jarred Case - it was a little too close to home for her, considering her own upbringing.
The way that Case wrote the song jars the listener as well. The first time I heard it a few weeks ago, I was walking through the Denver airport, listening to the album through headphones. The song literally stopped me in my tracks. I'm not sure that has ever happened before. It was similarly striking to hear her perform the song a capella with Hogan in front of the reverently quiet audience.
Case and the band graciously returned for a second encore, and Hogan told the audience, "Usually it's an either/or situation when we end a show. We'll either do one or another song. But tonight, we'll do both." They proceeded with "I Wish I was the Moon," followed by "Margaret vs. Pauline," two audience favorites.
"She's like the goat with the golden poop," said Hogan of Case and her songwriting prowess. "Her tail pops up and out it comes." You could say that. Golden poop, Tommy Lee and screaming mothers - whatever it is that's working, Neko, don't stop.
Where Did I Leave That Fire
This Tornado Loves You
Bracing for Sunday
People Got a Lotta Nerve
That Teenage Feeling
Set Out Running
Deep Red Bells
Hold On, Hold On
Night Still Comes
Nearly Midnight, Honolulu
I Wish I Was the Moon
Margaret vs. Pauline