Neko Case - The Forum, London - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Neko Case - The Forum, London

by Priscilla Eyles Rating:9 Release Date:2012-08-06

Neko Case is preceded by the rather cute, winsome and utterly beguiling Angel Olsen, whose goofy smile and jokey manner belie an otherworldly and utterly distinctive voice which seems to come from another time. Like a mixture of Marissa Nadler, Sharon Van Etten and Joan Baez with the attitude of PJ Harvey, her voice is a splendorous thing, shimmering, tremulous, with a yearning lilt and Appalachian yodel which gets to your core and makes you a fall in a bit in love with her (I did anyway). Her recent, catchy single, the grungy/shoegazey 'Forgiven/Forgotten' is performed with the appropriate amount of energy and goes down a treat, while her closing number (which I sadly can’t find the name of) is an epic and compelling, Dylanesqe ballad that showcases Olsen’s deft finger-picking skills.

Neko Case and her band come on to the sound of the sonar which starts 'Where Did I Leave That Fire', a song that eloquently details the depression she went into after the death of her parents and grandmother. Neko is dressed casually in leggings and vest top, her hair wild and signature red with a spot of grey. 'Where Did I Leave That Fire' gains extra poignancy live with its haunting refrain of "I wanted so badly not to be me", and builds sensitively around Case’s haunting vocals from scattered percussion and muted, rumbling piano chords. It also showcases the great harmony singing of Neko’s backing singer Kelly Hogan who, as well as being a good counterpoint vocalist, turns out to be really entertaining (more on that later).

Case’s set really highlights the strength of the songs off her latest album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight..., which sound as good (and have me singing along) as much of her classic earlier work does, giving Case a great repertoire of songs to choose from. She chooses some great ones. New songs like 'Bracing for Sunday', with its rockabilly swing; 'Local Girl', with its sweeping call-and-response chorus and classic Motown sound; 'Night Still Comes', with its catchy chorus and melody and clever lyrics ("If I puked up some sonnets/ would you call me a miracle"); and the beautiful and delicately haunting acoustic ballad 'Calling Cards', handled with great sensitivity and some excellent trombone playing by her band, are testaments to Case’s continuing ability to move people both mentally and emotionally.

They sit nicely alongside the older songs she plays, like the driving and sublime 'This Tornado Loves You', the atmospheric and percussive 'Red Tide' (both off Middle Cyclone), and the anthemic 'Hold On, Hold On', with those killer guitar hooks and a great chorus. And when I look around me and see enraptured faces, I see how much these songs mean to people.

Case also proves live that her distinctive, soulful, Southern-sounding, rich voice is as good live as it is on record, as I suspected it would be. And she sings with an absolute conviction, as if her whole being depended on it. She draws you in and makes you want to listen to what she has to say, and what she has to say is always interesting and/or entertaining.

 Neko comes across as highly likable in person, humble and funny, constantly cracking jokes and exchanging absurdist banter with her backing singer Kelly Hogan, at one point talking about selling her eggs at a bake sale so she can fund a trip to play in London, at another talking about how long she could sing 'Nothing to Remember' while her hair was "strangling her ovula" ("It’s science!"). The relationship between Neko and Kelly onstage seems genuinely affectionate, with Kelly proving herself a natural comedienne, making comments such as mishearing Neko say she wanted to give Justin Bieber a blow job, and dispelling any air of seriousness.

What is proven here tonight is that Neko's body of work is truly formidable and ranks alongside the greats (Dylan, Young, Mitchell, whoever you care to mention). My only disappointment is that she doesn’t play more from the brilliant Blacklisted (2002). But that's the problem with an artist who has so much good material to choose from. She does graciously take an audience request to do the beautiful ballad 'I Wish I Was the Moon' (although I suspect she's planning to play this anyway, given its predominance in her setlist throughout her tour), which delights the audience and is sung with a sensitivity and subtlety which really brings the song alive.

The night ends on a high with the strident and rocky song 'Man' (the perfect feminist anthem) sung with attitude and played with verve, with Case strumming her guitar while the audience has a ball. I went home with a smile on my face and gratitude for Neko's ability to craft songs that beautifully encompass the extremities of life.



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