When you go see a Neko Case concert, not only do you get to
witness one of alt-country’s finest songwriters and most stunning voices in
action. You also get some top-quality between-song banter courtesy of Case’s
quick wit, comfortable relationship with her long-time band and willingness to
say pretty much anything from moment to moment.---
That certainly proved to be the case Saturday when Case headlined the Utah Arts Festival’s annual Summer Solstice Concert, despite the fact that her friend, harmonizing partner and rival in on-stage comedic one-upmanship, Kelly Hogan, wasn’t with the band on this trip to Utah as she instead tours this summer in support of her own excellent new album, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain.
Hogan was certainly missed, both for her vocal skills and ability to goad Case into ever-funnier chatter, but the show didn’t seem to lack anything, as Case and her band delivered a set spanning her catalog of dark, twisting narratives and surrealistic lyrical salvos, including some brand-new tunes.
Along the way, Case lobbed some hilarious one-liners at the appreciative crowd of a few thousand fans. Among my favorites of the night, paraphrased from my scribbled notes:
“This is a love song for my (New Pornographers) bandmates. When I close my eyes and sing it, I can see Dan Bejar’s hair.” Describing her stream of dark, depressing tunes in the set: “Wow, this is a Saturday night bum-out session. Just lay down and hold yourselves.”
(Introducing a new song called “A Tribute to Whores”): “This song is about that whore, Kelly Hogan, and you can tell her I said that. This song is also a fucking drag.”
“That’s the great thing about the New Pornographers: Every dude in the band sings like three ladies.”
Case’s asides offered moments of levity between a series of outstanding performances by her and her excellent band, whose combination of traditional-rock instrumentation and touches of pedal steel, banjo and stand-up bass gave them the ability to deliver both the lush songs from Case’s most-recent release, 2009’s Middle Cyclone, with more sparse, twangy fare like the songs from 2002’s Blacklisted.
Songs like “That Teenage Feeling” and “Maybe Sparrow” early in the show were proof of what a stellar group Case has around her, with guitarist Jon Rauhouse the most noteworthy of the lot in those performances, and for most of the night.
“I Wish I Was the Moon” from Blacklisted was a highlight, as were “Hold On, Hold On” and “Margaret vs. Pauline” from Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood album. A cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” is what inspired her to remark on the depressing nature of much of her material.
A couple of new songs also provided some of Saturday night’s most exciting moments. The aforementioned “A Tribute to Whores” was a downbeat winner that came after an excellent “Margaret vs. Pauline.” And “Nearly Midnight in Honolulu” was part of Case’s encore, offering “more depressing music.”
The thing is, the dark lyrical themes come through as beautiful performances in the hands of Case and her band. You put that band together with a perfect summer night outdoors like we had on Saturday, and “depressing” is the last word you’d use to describe the show.
Photo courtesy of Utah Arts Festival