Neko Case @ Orpheum -- 09/20/13

It's been some time since the last time Neko Case was in Vancouver, and even longer since there was a new album. But it was a sort-of-homecoming for the Virginia singer -- who got her start in Tacoma before moving up to Vancouver -- as she came through promoting her new album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. (Which is my favourite album title of the year, so far)
The gorgeous Orpheum Theatre was packed for the show, her New Pornographer bandmates spotted in the crowd, and I can't think of a venue that would be better suited for someone like Neko Case.

Opening the show was Vancouver's own Wake Owl. The band sounded good, but sadly most of Colyn Cameron's vocals were nearly indistinguishable; they were drenched in reverb, which may have sounded great in a smaller venue, but in a large room like the Orpheum, they were muted and not at all clear.
They also only seemed to play new material, not dipping in to the Wild Country EP. A strange decision, as I am sure a hometown crowd may have recognised a song or two from rotation on The Peak and CBC Radio 3.
That being said, it was still an enjoyable set; the new songs sounded good -- laid back, but with an underlying intensity -- and I hope to catch them again sometime soon, at a venue where I can actually hear Colyn's lyrics.

It wasn't long after that Neko Case took the stage, with a giant painting (similar to the album art) hung behind her. Starting off with "Where Did I Leave That Fire" off the new album, the set featured a good mix of new and old songs; and for the entire show, Case's absolutely phenomenal voice had the crowd captivated, despite her warning earlier in the night that the entire crew had a touch of tour-sickness. From her voice soaring in "Night Still Comes" to the soft and beautiful "Calling Cards", there was not a single song where her voice was less than impressive. And that's to say nothing about her backing band; Kelly Hogan on backup vocals matched her intensity (and her dirty sense of humour between songs), guitarist Eric Bachmann held his own, and Jon Rauhouse held the whole show together on guitar, pedal steel, and for one song, trombone.
Other highlights included older songs like "This Tornado Loves You" and "Hold On, Hold On", the intense "Bracing For Sunday", and a cover of Mike O'Neill's "Andy".
The set came to a conclusion with the fiery "Man", but of course they were back out for an encore. First, performing "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" off the new album, an a capella song that showed the true power of Case's voice, and may have caused chills and a little bit of tears. After a couple more songs, including the heartbreaking "Margaret vs Pauline", she ended with the dark and foreboding "Red Tide", and once more genuinely thanking everyone for coming.

Case is one of my favourite musicians -- certainly my favourite female singer -- and this show absolutely reinforced that. No doubt it will end up as one of the best I've seen this year.

Where Did I Leave That Fire; This Tornado Loves You; Bracing For Sunday; Lion's Jaw; That Teenage Feeling; Set Out Running; The Pharoahs; City Swans; Ragtime; Andy [Mike O'Neill cover]; In California; Deep Red Bells; Calling Cards; Hold On, Hold On; Night Still Comes; Man. 
(encore) Nearly Midnight, Honolulu; Local Girl; Margaret vs Pauline; Red Tide.