CONCERT REVIEW: Neko Case At The Keswick

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meAVATAR2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER A tomboyish siren with a thick red mane and lungs of fine Corinthian leather, Neko Case is equal parts gender warrior and indie aesthete, a potent hybrid aptly evoked by the Joan-of-Arc-in-a-muscle-car tableau on the cover her new album, Middle Cyclone. Case is also in possession of what is arguably the greatest voice of her generation — clarion in tone; trans-national in its reach; and bottomless in its capacity to transmute wryly-observed public fictions into inescapable private truths that all more or less boil down to: I am woman, hear me ruminate.

That voice was in fighting form Friday night at the sold out Keswick Theater when Case put on a nearly two hour show largely comprised of material from her two most recent (and uniformly excellent) solo albums. She opened with the fabulist allegory of “Maybe Sparrow” and closed her set with the resolutely gorgeous “Teenage Feeling,” before returning for a lengthy encore that included a wide-screen countrypolitan cover of Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” and ended with the surrealistic dead-lover lore of “Star Witness.” In between, Case and co. expertly recreated the starry night campfire reveries of “Middle Cyclone” and delivered a so-lonesome-I-could-cry nekocase_1.jpgreading of “I Wish I Was The Moon” that set the tone for the evening: autumnal, moonlit, like there’s a kind of hush all over the world tonight.

Willowy, ruby tress-ed, and dressed in all-black, Case performed in front of a kitschy movie screen, topped by a giant owl peaking over the top, upon which was projected all manner of grainy art flick b-roll that vaguely mirrored the thematic concerns of the songs. She was accompanied by crack five-piece band that included honey-voiced sidekick Kelly Hogan on backing vocals. Longtime friends and collaborators, Case and Hogan are adepts in the art of the wisecracking gal-pal back and forth, and their repartee was infectious and lent some welcome levity to a set list long on mid-tempo somberness. Complaining that the recent arrival of her period was taking its toll, Case informed Hogan that when show ended she was going to slip into a suit made out of sleeping bags and affix her mouth to the business-end of a backwards-working vacuum cleaner filled with potato chips.

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