Neko Case - The Orpheum, Tampa, Florida - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Neko Case - The Orpheum, Tampa, Florida

by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date:
Neko Case - The Orpheum, Tampa, Florida
Neko Case - The Orpheum, Tampa, Florida

It’s a tough sell to say you’re “in a relationship” with someone you haven’t seen in ten years, but that’s what Neko Case ably convinced a crowd of Florida admirers of last Friday night.  A lot of time and a few albums have passed since Case last graced the Sunshine State.  With the stage sparsely decorated with some oversized dangling hornet’s nests, it looked as if she had only stopped by to grab a few props from Splash Mountain.  But as with any good friend you haven’t seen in ages, all was forgiven over the course of the evening.

Subbing in for a hoped for set by Kimya Dawson, was Canadian singer-songwriter, Jennifer Castle.  Castle, armed with only a gently strummed Telecaster and harmonica on a few songs, faced a sold out and buzzed up audience.  She pulled primarily from her current Angels of Death jennifer castlealbum and ably plies the waters of the sixties/seventies folk scene.  Leading with album opener ‘Tomorrow’s Mourning’ it was clear Castle is a songwriter to be listened to and not just heard and that was hard to do in a boisterous club setting.  Shifting to a bluesier number with breezy “heys” thrown off in the chorus her folk sometimes felt filtered through Harry Smith’s “old, weird America”.  Seemingly undaunted by her surroundings, Castle demurred on a planned for Dylan cover with an a capella song about sailing.  The crowd noise grew over her set which was unfortunate as she saved some stunners for last.  The beauty of a song like ‘Rose Waterfalls’, where Castle tapped a tiny bit of Janis Joplin rasp, was clear as she hit the high notes in the chorus.  Closing with ‘Angels of Death’ she quipped she wanted to write an album about something we all have in common.  It would be great to catch Castle in cozier confines with the cooking little combo she assembled for her album. 

With two accompanying singers, Shelley Short and Rachel Flotard, and a tight band with a diversity of instrumentation on hand, Neko Case started with the dynamic push and pull of ‘Pitch or Honey’ from last year’s Hell-On.  The rest of her band consisted of Lex Price (bass), Kyle Crane (drums), Johnny Sangster (guitar/keys), and Jon Rauhouse (guitar, banjo, steel).  Case quickly shifted to a string of older favorites that was fronted by the newer, yet no less classic sounding, ‘Last Lion of Albion’.  Highlights here included a two-staged ‘Deep Red Bells’ and an inspired ‘Margaret vs Pauline’ that had many in the audience singing along.  It was here that Case fessed up to being “dicks” for staying away so long.  The versatility of Short and Flotard was clear.  Case seemed almost more comfortable sans instrument elevating a song like ‘Winnie’ where the two sang in tandem with her as one strong voice.  Elsewhere they provided sparkling harmonies on the rollicking ‘Bad Luck’. 

Hell-On’s longest track (and one that has grown on me the most), ‘Curse of the I-5 Corridor’, had Case taking us through a suite of rooms from the bombastic to the still.  Singing by herself to start out ‘Hex’, Case ran quickly to the chorus where her band joined in and gave way to a nice spot for Sangster and Rauhouse to work things out.  Imploring us all to stretch as she got to mid-set, the older ‘Look For Me’ paired up well with Hell-On’s title track in the encore.  Both share a shambolic Kurt Weill operatic flair one-upped by a full-on scream at the end of the environmental apocalypse of ‘Hell-On’. 

At their liveliest moments, with five guitars giving the band a punkier edge, on songs like ‘Man’ and the encore’s ‘Loretta’ they showed what fire they could bring.  The extended encore held more gems with Case’s vocals peaking again on ‘Pharoahs’ without an instrument to play.  Colored with pedal steel it was a great take on the song.  Rauhouse hunched over a banjo in dim light for ‘That Teenage Feeling’ as her singers pushed higher still.  Before closing and sending the audience out to the “bum bada bum’ chorus of ‘Ragtime’, it was here that Case declined to play a request for ‘Star Witness’ but teased that now that we were back “in a relationship” it was only a matter of time.  We’ll mark our calendars for 2029.       

Hopefully, it’s not another decade before Case and Co. make it back.  But if it played out again with her happy to be here and us happy to have her back then that would be okay.  Whatever that relationship status may be.  Her growing catalog of literate and carefully structured songs mixed with a top-notch touring band are well worth waiting for.  Case has plenty of more shows on her existing tour, so don't miss a chance to catch her.

All photos:  Christa Joyner Moody 

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