The Disparate Emotions of Neko Case

September 27th, 2013

Neko Case – Radio City Music Hall – September 26, 2013

Onstage last night at Radio City Music Hall, Neko Case and her band performed in front of a backdrop depicting a surreal seascape, with the outlines of eerie eels swimming among a barrage of sharp objects: scissors, swords and axes. The eels also surround Case on the cover of her latest album, The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight the More I Love You, and are perhaps an appropriate visual representation of the album’s fearless, highly personal songs—lurking in the deep waters of the singer’s darker moments and experiences with grief, depression and childhood traumas.

The intense subject matter of songs like “Bracing for Sunday,” “Night Still Comes,” “Wild Creatures” and “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” (particularly powerful and sad, which Case and longtime backup vocalist Kelly Hogan performed in stark a cappella) stood in contrast to Case’s easy charisma and sense of humor throughout the performance. It’s the ability to contain and convey these disparate emotions and moods in her music that makes the singer-songwriter such a compelling artist, able to craft a truly ominous atmosphere during songs like “Deep Red Bells” and “Red Tide,” and a tone of wistful nostalgia in the performance of  “Set Out Running,“Hold On, Hold On” and “That Teenage Feeling.”

For the final song of the evening, Case invited opener AC Newman (whom she also performs with in the New Pornographers) and his bandmates onstage to perform “Ragtime.” “It’s our happiest song,” noted Case. Indeed, the tune was joyful, its upbeat tempo punctuated by bells and tambourine jingles and with a catchy, sing-along chorus. Despite the presence of those looming sea creatures (and all they may represent) atop the stage, Neko Case ended the night on a triumphant, optimistic note. —Alena Kastin