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