Concert Revue- Neko Case at Liberty Hall

Photo April Fleming/The Pitch

Neko Case’s latest album The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You found the “part-time” New Pornographers member doggedly chasing her muse to all four corners, searching for: love, confidence, and parental guidance. Opening with penultimate The Worse Things Get… track “Where Did I Leave That Fire” was an act of supreme confidence, a bellowing submarine sound issued a false-start to an audience that was ready to run. Follow-up “This Tornado Loves You” with John Rauhouse’s consciously strummed banjo allowed Case the chance for her first vocal volleys. Her voice can be a rafter shaking entity and when it broke lose I half expected her band to stop dead in their tracks.

The band did steady for Fox Confessor Brings the Flood cut “Lion’s Jaws”, slipping into slow dance territory. Here Case’s sighing incantations sound-tracked another turn, as the clock ticked closer to midnight. “Teenage Feeling” stole further into the past, transported by Rauhouse’s rollicking banjo and Case’s yearning voice. The song was one of the night’s many fighters, refusing to throw in the towel and firmly committed to “holding on to that teenage feeling.”

2000′s “Set Out Running” possesses a similar longing to shake off the weight of the past and start anew. “I just can’t shake this feeling that I’m nothing in your eyes” Case sang from the precipice, pushed to the edge by twanging guitar and mourning pedal steel. Soon only her desolate yawp remained, echoing out of every dark cavern. Muted trombone in “Calling Cards” cast a ghostly pallor, giving the final shot “I’ve got calling cards from twenty years ago” a greater wallop than the studio version could ever pack.

The entire night wasn’t a funeral procession however. Case and vocal-collaborator/comedic foil Kelly Hogan kept up an impeccable rapport that deterred some of the deathly musings suggesting “a banjo is a guitar that wants to show you a dead body.” “City Swans” ascent was steady, taking off with Case’s fluttering vocals and a trotting guitar part. By the time chorus came, Case disappeared into a blustery cloud and her unease “I can’t look at you straight on” seemed self-confident.  Whether between banter or in the midst of the maelstrom, Case has an incredible ability to mask any doubt.

If one song projected an unshakable certainty, it was “Man”. An assault of self-assurance and gender reversals, The Worse Things Get… highlight shone on stage offering the authoritative version. Case’s dirtkicking choked out the audience and the band hightailed it to the nearest exit.

Coming back out to rapturous applause, the band provided the ultimate study in contrast to “Man” with “Nearly Midnight Honolulu”. Clapping died when the acapella number began as a hush fell over Liberty Hall. During a showstopper of any set, there’s occasional seat fidgeting or hushed murmuring. Not in this instance. It was quiet enough to hear the audience’s collective heartbeat, if a pulse remained at all. I can’t recall breathing once, each inhalation was stolen by Case to capture the abusive parent tale. Case and company continued for four more songs, but “Nearly Midnight Honolulu” became the night’s unquestionable apotheosis.

Reviewing The Worse Things Get… I wrote “confidence can’t come overnight.” That said, the night’s starkest moments still contained an overwhelming courage to display such unadorned emotion. If last night’s set at Liberty Hall proved anything it’s that Case has never let the reins of her driving confidence go.

Setlist:
1. “Where Did I Leave That Fire?”
2. “This Tornado Loves You”
3. “Bracing for Sunday”
4. “Lion’s Jaws”
5. “People Got A Lotta Nerve”
6. “That Teenage Feeling”
7. “Set Out Running”
8. “The Pharaohs”
9. “City Swans”
10. “Maybe Sparrow”
11. “Red Tide”
12. “Wild Creatures”
13. “Calling Cards”
14. “Deep Red Bells”
15. “Hold On, Hold On”
16. “Night Still Comes”
17. “Man”

18. “Nearly Midnight Honolulu”
19. “Local Girl”
20. “Ragtime”

21. ” I Wish I Was The Moon”
22. “Margaret vs. Pauline”

In the body above I mentioned Case and Kelly Hogan’s “impeccable rapport”, past being an austere musical performance the show was packed with quotacular moments, a few of which I’ve provided below:

“A banjo is a guitar that wants to show you a dead body.”

“That guitar is a d***.”- Said by Case after dropping her weathered acoustic guitar.

“This is more like 5th base. 5th base is when you let me drive your truck and you’re not in it…6th base is you go to the store and pick up tampons for me.”- Case assuming the role of baseball commentator after someone yelled out “2nd base” when she suggested the next song would be taking the audience out to “dinner and a movie.”

“All the bosoms laid out before me, were I a poor man t’would have been a feast.”- Case picking up an English brogue to lampoon Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee.

Nine Inch Nails Live at the Sprint Center

(Photo Brian Davidson/ Special to the Star/ KC Star)

In my review for Nine Inch Nail’s restless comeback album Hesitation Marks, I noted Trent Reznor spent much of the album’s run-time turning down the heat on past towering infernos, “until only a flickering blue pilot light is left”. The band’s searing two-hour set at the Sprint Center last night danced between the tiny shimmer of a lighter and a raging fire threatening everything in sight.

Jittery “Copy of A” opened up the night and Reznor was instantly caught up in his own groove, hurling across the stage like a feral animal. Follow-up “1,000,000″ smashed the opener into the “pieces of pieces of pieces” the squiggly song could only suggest, Reznor delivering the numb “I feel a million miles away, I don’t feel anything at all” with half-clenched teeth. Pretty Hate Machine warhorse “Terrible Lie” further escalated the aural onslaught. Every off-kilter guitar riff unleashed added additional black eye to an already bruised body.

Akin to the new LP, much of the show’s downtime was unexpected. “March of the Pigs” central question “doesn’t that make you feel better?”‘ became the eye of the storm, prolonged by Reznor and company. The piano traipsing along teased a respite that never arrived. Similarly, the skittish beat sequencing of “Find My Way” was oddly comforting in a live context. Surrounded by so much terror, Reznor’s “Children’s Prayer” subversion provided genuine tranquility. Elsewhere, the ambient washes following “Running” drowned out the entire crowd. Soon enough though the audience was cast onto the rocky shore by the seething interrogation “where the f*** were you?” of “Somewhat Deranged”.

But the brief intermissions of frailty were no match for the night’s muscular numbers; tracks intent on obliteration. Before the show, I heard someone yell what sounded like “cyber raptor” and that vivid imagine of a mechanical killing machine is ideal for the NIN discography. Backed by shadows, “Hand That Feeds” rose to its feet and stomped the audience into the ground with its indelible hook. “All Time Low” retained its rabid dog on a last leg status; flailing about without ever breaking the cage that contained it. “Disappointed”s scattered beams of light were right at home accompanying a fragmented mind that’s spent the last two decades attempting to piece everything together. And “Head Like A Hole” (which elicited the throatiest roar of the night) continued its dominance, heralding the apocalypse which the audience relished with delight.

The two songs that achieved equilibrium between the ragers and the growers are all too familiar to fans of the band. Bathed in purple, Reznor was quietly seeing red with “Piggy”. The “soothing” ambient whispers of the track were shouted down by the punishing drum beat and skyward reaching guitar solos. Then there was “Hurt” drawing the black curtain on the funeral procession. It was the least surprising moment of the night and still the most satisfying. Long since it was wrestled away from Reznor by Johnny Cash, he continues to imbue it with the same hopeless isolation an entire generation identified with nearly 20 years ago. When the whispering guitars find their voice, it’s the sound of man shedding his mortal coil.

When I was about 10, I remember having long shoots attached to my fingers and jokingly dubbing them “Nine Inch Nails” to my cousins. I had no idea who the band was; to me they were just a name. The apparent unease that crept over my cousins told me all I needed to know. The mere mention of the name clued me in this wasn’t a band that traded in comfort. Anyone that promises “the only that’s real” rarely does.

Setlist:
1. “Copy of A”
2. “1,000,000″
3. “Terrible Lie”
4. “March of the Pigs”
5. “Piggy”
6. “All Time Low”
7. “Disappointed”
8. “Came Back Haunted”
9. “Find My Way”
10. “Into the Void” (First time since 2007)
11. “The Frail” (Tour debut)
12. “The Wretched” (Tour debut)
13. “Survivalism”
14. “Running”
15. “A Warm Place”
16. “Somewhat Damaged”
17. “Wish”
18. “Burn” (Tour debut)
19. “The Hand That Feeds”
20. “Head Like A Hole”

21. “Even Deeper”
22. “Various Methods of Escape” (Live debut)
23. “While I’m Still Here”
24. “Black Noise”
25. “Hurt”