with Deer Tick
Plaza Theatre, Orlando, FL • November 19, 2009
Toward the end of her encore at the sold-out show at Orlando’s Plaza Theatre, Neko Case told the audience who was responsible for her coming to Florida for the first time: Sam Beam, the multi-talented singer/songwriter/producer and former Floridian who records under the name Iron & Wine.
Case, wearing tight blue jeans, a puffy maroon blouse and gray sweater, admitted that she had thought people didn’t attend concerts in Florida. Beam had assured her that was not the case, and the enthusiastic, adoring fans at the Plaza bore him out.
“You are a wonderful audience,” she told the crowd. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get to Florida and promise you I’ll be back.”
Clearly feeling the love, her backup singer, Kelly Hogan, warned that Case might start crying.
“It’s true,” Hogan said.
It was that kind of evening: much love, a communal vibe, and a performer who really connected with her audience. Case mapped out a circuitous and swooping odyssey of her oeuvre, from the earlier works with her band the Boyfriends to her latest album, Middle Cyclone.
Backed by the same sturdy band that supplied the backbone of Middle Cyclone (guitar wiz Paul Rigby, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Jon Rauhouse, bassist Tom V. Ray and drummer Barry Mirochnick), and strumming one of a number of four-string guitars from her collection, Case sang with assurance and power that you can only get an inkling of from her recordings. This gorgeous red-haired maven can sing.
And sing she did, for over ninety minutes. From “Maybe Sparrow” to “Train from Kansas City,” Case’s voice rang strong and true, modulating from the lower register of “Deep Red Bells” to the soaring arpeggios on “That Teenage Feeling.”
The bulk of the 90-minute set included most of the songs from Middle Cyclone: “People Got A Lot of Nerve,” “Vengeance is Sleeping,” “Fever,” “The Pharaohs,” and of course, “This Tornado Loves You.” But she also sang numbers from earlier in her career like “The Tigers have Spoken” and “Hold on, Hold on.”
One highlight was Rigby’s solo acoustic work on “Vengeance,” and another sweet moment came when Hogan hand-cranked a tape through a box to get that child’s music toy sound on Middle Cyclone. Hogan’s voice, by the way, blended perfectly with Case’s. It was a thrill to hear two amazing singers harmonizing on stage.
Throughout the concert, videos played on a screen behind the band, adding to the overall ambiance of Americana Folk Weirdness. Lots of birds on video.
There was also a lot of in-between-song chatter, mainly from Hogan, who warned us that Case often mixed up the set order (“That’s true,” Case said), to introducing the haunting and haunted “Polar Nettles” as a song about a “Dude who has this thing for a nurse. It ends badly for the dude. But he was OK with it!”
The easy camaraderie of the band and the interplay between Neko and Kelly kept the audience laughing between songs. When someone shouted out, “I’ve got a case of Neko,” Case peered out into the audience and said, “Is that you, grandpa?”
Hogan provided most of the between-song banter during their set, dedicating “Teenage Feeling” to the guitarist Rigby and discussing the tedium of life on a tour bus (watching endless documentaries about heavy metal bands and saying “Indeed” and “Thus it shall be” to one another in husky voices).
Hogan also announced that their sound engineer was trying to make a universal salutation and compliment out of the word “Balls.” As in “Balls to you, my man.” “Top of the balls to you, sir!”
When someone shouted out, “Balls to you, Neko Case,” Neko quickly responded: “Balls to you Orlando!”
Neko Case: www.nekocase.com