Henry Fonda Theater, February 17
Before last March’s wondrous Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Neko Case risked being typecast as one more female singer with great pipes but no personality. She’s a sharp interpreter of other people’s material, but her own compositions often drowned in torch-singer melodrama and alt-country faux-Americana. Happily, on Fox Confessor she finally moved out of her influences’ shadow, creating an album of folkloric tunes with a timeless grace that transcended O Brother stereotypes.
On her second Fonda visit in eight months, Case, supported by her country-ish backing band, ignored the sold-out audience’s random shouts of “You’re beautiful!” and leisurely waltzed through a 70-minute set highlighting the dexterity of her commanding voice without being showy. The night’s biggest cheers deservedly came during the Fox Confessor tracks. Examining the inexplicable nature of bad luck on “Margaret vs. Pauline” or the magnetic attraction between death and regret on “Star Witness,” Case and equally fiery backing vocalist Rachel Flotard probed the lyrics’ rich, tangled meanings, teasing out indelible images (the girl with parking-lot eyes, the corpse face-down in an oil pan) intertwined with unresolved questions about loneliness and doubt. Rarely pushing four minutes, her mostly midtempo compositions (enhanced by a dreamy lighting scheme and a muggy atmosphere) felt like ephemeral, half-remembered tales whose emotional memory lingers.
Although she didn’t skimp on the pre–Fox Confessor work, the older selections mostly revealed her earlier songwriting limitations. Warhorses like “Favorite” and “I Wish I Was the Moon” retained their twangy ache, but their lack of musical or thematic complexity reduced them to pleasant footnotes on par with her innocuous cover of Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain.” Neko Case always had a remarkable voice, but she’s only recently discovered the extraordinary artist she could become.