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Live Review and Photo Gallery: Neko Case at Out of Space • Evanston

| September 5, 2022

Neko Case

Out of Space

Temperance Beer Co.

Evanston, IL

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Review and Gallery by Jeff Elbel

Cover photo by Ebru Yildiz

 

Last year’s Out of Space performance by Neko Case and her band was postponed due to an illness in the touring party. On a blustery Saturday, Case made a welcome return. “A whole year later, here we are,” said Case. “Thanks for coming.”

The show opened fittingly with “This Tornado Loves You.” Next was “Hell-On,” with its heady lyric ruminating upon the nature of God and personal power. The song was augmented by bass and vocal harmony from local hero Nora O’Connor Keen. “Evanston’s own own own Nora O’Connor Keen Keen Keen!” said case afterward, delivering the introduction like a monster truck rally announcer.

Fresh gusts buffeted the stage during “I’m an Animal.” With the wind in her hair, Case assessed the weather and determined it to be on “the Ru Paul’s Drag Race” setting. “Sadly, I’m not fierce, and my walk is not that good, but I’m willing to work on it,“ she said.

The set list drew many favorites, including the urgent roots-rocker “Hold On, Hold On” from the recent retrospective album Wild Creatures. Case mentioned that she’d received questions about the collection’s availability on vinyl, which is backed up due to pervasive delays at pressing plants worldwide. She called the pent-up demand “the greatest problem ever that I did not foresee 12 years ago.”

Paul Rigby’s fingerstyle acoustic guitar intertwined with A.C. (Carl) Newman’s own acoustic playing during fond and emotional “Calling Cards.” Afterward, Case declared that the conditions were a threat to more than her unruly mane. “The wind is so relentless; it’s drying out my epiglottis and duodenum,” she said. These perils did not diminish the power of the harmony-laden “Last Lion of Albion” or the rich country tones of the harrowing serial-killer ballad “Deep Red Bells.” The latter was elevated by the twang of Rigby’s Telecaster and Joe Seiders’ deft percussion, in addition to Case’s four-stringed tenor guitar.

Case’s long-standing connection to Chicago and a faithful audience here was evident during “Margaret vs. Pauline.” The crowd erupted at the song’s picturesque lyrics comparing the lives and fortunes of “two girls riding the Blue Line.”

“This song is about this show,” said Case, introducing a jangly acoustic cover of Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” drawn from 2009’s Middle Cyclone album. The presence of Case’s New Pornographers bandmate Newman was prominent in a duet during The Go-Betweens’ “The Devil’s Eye.” Keen set aside her bass for a tom-tom solo during the rowdy “Lady Pilot.”

The crew was also part of the action. Case’s “man-friend Jeff” made regular appearances to swap instruments, ducking off stage to make efficient repairs and heroically keep the music on track. “What is it about that weird shop teacher head strap on the glasses that’s so hot,” said Case, dubbing her tech “Minnesota hot dish.” After performing the empowered “Man,” she comically apologized. “You can’t tell, but he’s really embarrassed right now. Sorry, I objectified you, baby.”

The waltz-time tale of longing “The Pharaohs” was replete with lilting harmony by Keen, followed by the new Wild Creatures song “Oh, Shadowless.” The soothing lullaby was interrupted mid-song with a cacophonic interlude as Case joined Seider’s drumming with a hammering tom-tom passage. The beautiful “Maybe Sparrow” brought the main set to a close. The crowd sang along with the winsome “la di da” chorus, masking the tragic outcome of the song’s unheeded warning.

When Case and Rigby returned for an encore, a member of the audience asked about another local favorite and frequent collaborator. “Where’s Kelly Hogan?” came the question. “Rockin’ with Mavis” was Case’s succinct reply, referring to her absent friend’s choice gig supporting local Gospel music treasure Mavis Staples. Case and Rigby played “Vengeance is Sleeping,” with Rigby’s nimble playing dancing alongside Case’s voice. The band rejoined afterward. When introducing the arid waltz “Star Witness,” Case noted, “It’s a Chicago song.” Many cheered the local connection, although the song described a true tale of racial inequality and wrongful death that occurred here. The show concluded with the examination of a misused muse, “Halls of Sarah,” describing poets “loving womankind as lions love Christians.”

The depth, seriousness, and confrontational nature of Case’s lyrics are an elemental part of her music’s staying power, alongside an arresting voice and phrasing rooted in classic folk and country music. Ruminating over unsettling scenes within the songs is an exercise for a darkened room and headphones. The atmosphere in the Temperance Beer Company parking lot was warm and celebratory despite the weather. Case and her cohort were in high spirits throughout the show. Before departing, Case thanked the audience again for returning to the delayed show. “Be nice to each other, and we’ll see you again,” she said. “’Cause we’re watching,” she added with a laugh.

 

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