Written by Greg Ackerman, Photographed by Stan Martin
Friday’s performance at Bass Concert Hall by Neko Case was delivered in front of a nearly full house on an uncharacteristically cold evening in Austin that saw the even more uncommon occurrence of graupel, a weather condition akin to hail and sleet. The turnout was a testament to how popular the singer and frontwoman of Canadian indie rock outfit, New Pornographers is here in the “Live Music Capitol.” With a seven-piece band in tow, Case set out to put her first album in five years, Hell On, on display. The singer led-off with album track, “Pitch or Honey” and “Last Lion of Albion” from her latest record before delving into older material. Overall, the red-haired chanteuse performed ten of twelve songs off Hell On during the 23-song set.
Case appeared on stage in a somewhat irreverent outfit consisting of black pants with life-size human bones on them as if she were half-way dressed as a skeleton. We soon forgot about the strange costume once she began singing. Her voice matches the thoughtful lyrics presented. She often touches on universal themes we all identify with as in the song, “Bad Luck” (also on the new record) which appeared about a third the way into the performance.
“Are you tired of things going right?
Things going wrong?
Tired of trying to make everyone happy?
Too tired to sing your own songs
Do you wish you could stop everything
And take back your love?
Are you sorry you gave it up so easy?
Do you cry like you’re trying to be born?”
With two previous Grammy nominations in 2006 and 2014, Case is one of a handful of influential female artists who have enjoyed success as both a solo singer/songwriter and as a member of New Pornographers. With the Me Too movement highlighting how gender issues affect women in the music industry, it is notable the Grammys made what appears to be a concerted effort to raise up artists like Case last night at the awards show. Indeed 31 women won awards, up 82% from the previous year. Perhaps Case is soon to be an award-winner as well? Her popularity and body of work seem to suggest so. And Case is an ideal woman to represent strong, talented, female musicians often offering up her opinions on gender bias and social policy on Twitter and other social platforms.
Another set highlight was Case’s four-song encore which continued the upbeat trend of the setlist leading off with yet another Hell On tune, the title track. “The Pharoahs,” “Loretta,” “That Teenage Feeling” and “Ragtime” finished out the night on a high note with every member of her band getting into the more rocking section of the setlist.
Case plays Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico on February 12 before moving on to Tuscon and Phoenix before heading to Australia for the Port Ferry Folk Festival. See all of her tour dates here.