It took a little while, but Neko Case finally landed in town for a headlining slot instead of as support for someone else’s tour. She’s still in the promotion cycle for last year’s excellent Hell-On, and if you’re a fan of that record you got a heaping handful and then some. Three quarters of the record was played throughout the generous two dozen song set, and the highlights truly sparkled. Case’s voice is well documented, a powerful, nuanced and evocative instrument that has few peers. The way she sings lines like “She didn’t ask to be your remake or your muse/We’re parasites inside her blues” from “Halls of Sarah” or “Oracle of The Maritimes” with the piercing “There’s no way I could tell you/How much I could love you/’Cause I’ve never been so scared of anything” hit hard. The latter song is one of her absolute finest from a career impressively deep with gems, and the band delivered a tightly coiled performance for maximum effect.
The title track also was a riveting moment. The lilting waltz tempo that Case uses so effectively was broken into a million shards with the joined banshee screams of Case and her background singers Rachel Flotard and Shelley Short, a much more forceful blast than the relatively subdued version on the record. (“You don’t have permission to take any pictures” took on a art/life imitation aspect when before the show started, a recorded voice respectfully asked that people refrain from taking photos or videos at the risk of being escorted from the show. And while some people likely groused over their perceived trampling of personal rights, it was very refreshing to see an entire room focused on what was happening on stage, not filtered through a small, luminous rectangle.)
It’s doubtful that Case could get through an entire set without playing two of her signature songs, and thankfully both “Hold On, Hold On” and “This Tornado Loves You” weren’t ignored. It would be remiss to say that it’s a new lineup now, as aside from Jon Rauhouse on guitar, the six other musicians have been playing with her for a few tours now and sound totally locked in. That said, there was a bit of playful banter missing via the usual back and forth of Case and departed singer/foil Kelly Hogan, though Case did tweak the guitar nerds in attendance by saying that her tenor guitar was basically a ukulele, despite the howling protests of gear heads who would claim otherwise. A rousing cover of the Nervous Eater’s “Loretta” made a strong connection to Boston, and the evening eased out with the triumphant “Ragtime.”
Margart Glaspy took the stage first, alone save her guitar, strong voice, and well-crafted songs. She’s got a bit of a Billy Bragg guitar style that securely anchors the rhythm and lets her get down to delivering the lyrics in a very confident, yet carefree way. She relayed her Bostonian experience as a student at Berklee, and talked about her sister’s cassette collection, which led directly to her cover of “Ex-Factor,” the Lauryn Hill song that was a constant part of her soundtrack for two years.