After breezing through eight songs and only offering a couple nice-to-be-hear comments, Neko Case apologized to the sold-out crowd at the Palace Theatre on Thursday night. Apparently, the fact that 89.3 the Current was streaming the show live to the world was weighing on her mind.
“I may not be as chatty as normal, cuz I’m not supposed to swear,” she said. “And that’s hard for me.”
There’s even a lightweight cuss word in the title of Case’s latest album, “Hell-On,” her first new one in five years and the crux of Thursday’s 90-minute set. And sure enough, there was an F-bomb built into the lyrics just two songs after she made that comment, in the seven-minute epic “Curse of the I-5 Corridor.”
“I [bleeped] every man I wanted to be,” Case sang, one of eight new tunes spotlighted in the set.
Aside from the ironically buoyant and poppy single “Bad Luck” (which it followed), “Curse of the I-5 Corridor” was indicative of the new material featured so heavily in the performance: It started out slow and dark, meandered through a couple time changes and mood changes, and was laced with glib, thought-provoking lines. Many of the new tunes boasted a sophisticated, aloof, Cole Porter-like vibe, also including the show opener “Pitch or Honey” and the title track “Hell-On,” which kicked off the encore.
Far from Case’s most upbeat performance – it might’ve been better suited to an entirely seated theater than the standing-floor Palace -- Thursday’s set was still one of her most dramatic and intriguing. It was also her least twangy. Guitarist Jon Rauhouse only sat down at the pedal-steel a few times, starting with “Deep Red Bells” early in the set.
Without her longtime co-vocalist Kelly Hogan, Case enlisted a couple new women backup singers, both of whom harmonized beautifully with her (especially in the new tune "Winnie"). They also played guitar here and there – a fact that Case proudly pointed out during the encore while also shouting-out opener Thao Nguyen of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down.
“If I had gone to a show when I was 16 where there were four different women playing guitar, my mind would’ve been blown,” she said.
The hard-rocking pre-encore finale “Man” got an extra boost with a four-guitar engine behind it, including Rauhouse’s. More oldies filled in the encore, including “This Tornado Loves You” and “Loretta.” Case had promised to revisit her 2004 gem “Hex” later in the show, after she messed it up mid-set, but she didn't. Instead, she added an extra song to the end, “Ragtime.”
And anyway, maybe it was all for the best she didn’t try “Hex” again, since -- after she gave up on it the first time -- she lashed out on herself, saying, “I’m a dick.” Not sure if that, too, had to be bleeped out in the webcast, which is archived over at the Current's website.
Here's Thursday's set list:
- Pitch or Honey
- Last Lion of Albion
- Deep Red Bells
- Maybe Sparrow
- Margaret vs. Pauline
- Calling Cards
- Curse of the I‐5 Corridor
- Gumball Blue
- Oracle of the Maritimes
- Hex (botched)
- Halls of Sarah
- Look for Me (I'll Be Around)
- Dirty Diamond
- Hold On, Hold On
- ENCORE: Hell‐On
- The Pharaohs
- This Tornado Loves You