Neko Case at the Orpheum
Trying to describe Neko Case’s voice is like trying to describe the rain. Yes, it’s water that falls from the sky, but that doesn’t quite capture the whole idea.And yes, Case’s voice is beautiful, powerful, siren-like – but mere words, even superlatives like these, fall short of truly describing that sound. There is no other singer around who sounds quite like Neko Case; one must simply listen to understand.
Case and her highly able five-member backing band wrapped up three months on the road with a tour-closing date at Boston’s venerable Orpheum Theatre. Within the opera-house acoustics of the Orpheum, Case sounded as if this were the first show of the tour, not the last. Case is not a particularly flashy performer. She tends to stand still by the mic, letting her songs do the talking. Behind the performers was draped a large painted backdrop with two serpents twisting through a jungle motif, with the mouthful of a title of Case’s latest album scrawled among the leaves: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
Case featured six songs from the new album during her 90-minute set, including the show’s opening number, “Where Did I Leave That Fire,” and set-closer “Ragtime.” This latest album, her seventh, was written in the midst of a bout of depression brought on by the loss of Case’s parents and grandmother. One of the lines of “Where Did I Leave That Fire” captures the mood: “I wanted so badly not to be me.”
Neko Case is something of an acquired taste, in the same way that single-malt scotch is an acquired taste. Her songs are highly literary, and tend to defy rock and roll convention. In recent years, she has moved from the alt-country of her roots to a genre-busting sound that is increasingly hard to pin down. It is a similar path she follows in concert, sliding easily from the country twang of “Set Out Running” – one of the highlights of the night – to the indie rock of “City Swan” (helped along by a superb guitar solo from sideman Jon Rauhouse) to the clarion call of “That Teenage Feeling.”
The set closed on a strong note, with amped-up versions of “Hold On, Hold On” and “Man” sandwiching a torchy “Night Still Comes.” Case and friends then returned for a double-encore that included a cover Adam Ant’s “Place in the Country” followed by not one but two classic Heart covers: “Barracuda” and “Crazy on You,” before wrapping up the night – and the tour – with her own “Star Witness.”