Fans love fire-haired songstress Neko Case for being a quirky character. Between “This Tornado Loves You” and “Halls of Sarah,” a truly unusual conversation took place between Neko and her background singers at the sold-out Lincoln Theatre in DC on Saturday.
Crouching, Neko said, “I’ll just do sumo squats. Keep the tailbone pointed, in and down.” One of the singers said, “I think that’s on the Catholic School list of shit you can’t say.” Someone replied, “This is a family show.” Neko gleefully exclaimed, “No breedsies!” I may not have captured this conversation perfectly verbatim, but I have done justice to its delightful oddness.
When she returned for her encore, Neko told the audience, “I just want to the audience to address the elephant in the room.” The elephant in the room, naturally was, the bust of Lincoln’s head in the lobby of the Lincoln Theatre. One of her singers interjected, “I thought she was going to say something totally different. How cool is the guy in the orange sweatshirt in the back who’s been dancing the whole time?” Neko cracked as she started to sing the title track of last year’s critically acclaimed album, Hell-On, saying, “I forgot what I was going to sing because I was thinking about the Lincoln head and the hair on the eye sacs.” After she successfully completed the song, she said, “If I’m afraid of any earthly monster, it’s that Lincoln head.”
Part of the joy of Neko Case is the utter contrast between her sophisticated lyrics and these digressions into utter juvenilia. Someone once complained online about Neko, “Why does every song have to be so challenging?” Indeed, the title track of Hell-On, as well as “Last Lion of Albion,” played second Saturday evening, explore ecofeminist themes. It is also entirely true, as Neko declared at one point during the concert, that “I didn’t pick my butt at all during this entire concert.”
Stream Hell-On by Neko Case on Spotify:
Neko’s concert covered a breadth of material from her 20-plus year career. Over that time, Neko sung with the Canadian indie rock the New Pornographers, and she also sung at the Grand Ole Opry. She received Grammy nominations for Best Folk Album in 2010 for Middle Cyclone and for Best Alternative Album for The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.
With her encore alone, Neko demonstrated her stylistic range. “Hell-On” was a sophisticated pop song, while “Blue, Blue Baby,” fell into the category of alternative country or Americana. Alternative rock probably best characterized “Teenage Feeling.” Neko freely mixed genres, and she has been said to mix alternative rock with the rockabilly of Wanda Jackson and the country of Loretta Lynn.
At just shy of 25 songs, including the encore, this concert was absolutely packed with great material. Opener Margaret Glaspy put on an excellent performance, mixing her own ’90s influences with bluesy chords from Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson. At just shy of 30, Margaret is a talented young performer, with a great voice, who writes strong material and can really play. The Lincoln Theatre puts on consistently great shows with serious fans who listen to the music at the right time — and cheer and applaud at the right times. It’s a beautiful venue, and a fitting setting for Neko Case and the other top-shelf performers who appear there — creepy old Lincoln head aside.
Here are a few more pictures of Neko Case performing at the Lincoln Theatre on Jan. 26, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason with rights reserved to Neko Case.