Photo Credit: Jason Creps
Accompanied by a five-piece band that featured Kelly Hogan’s exceptional voice and Eric Bachmann’s adept guitar and keys work, Neko Case and company tore through a range of songs at the Georgia Theatre, drawn mostly from her past two records.
Before I go any further: Let it be known that Case’s band is tight, though not in the overly-polished, “let’s replicate the record note-for-note” manner. The playing was confident throughout the set, everything finely calibrated even when the moods of the songs swayed from drowsy to frantic.
Considering that Case's Athens gig was the first night of the current tour, audiences down the line should have little reservation that her show is worth the ticket price. The interplay between Case and Hogan was especially impressive during “Night Still Comes,” from last year’s fantastic The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Both voices sang the same lyric (“You never held it at the right angle”), but the subtle differences in vocal tones made me value Hogan’s longstanding tenure in Case’s band even more.
Case poked fun at herself for having to stop a song short to retune, but more than redeemed the break with an enthusiastic rendition of “This Tornado Loves You,” the lead-off track from her brilliant Middle Cyclone. A chilling execution of “Calling Cards,” from her latest record, also stood out as a highlight, thanks in no small part to a subtle trombone part offered by the band’s rhythm guitarist (who also played a crucial role throughout the evening on pedal steel).
Between songs, Case and Hogan took to the microphone to share sometimes lewd jokes. Any live recording of the pair from here on out ought to archive their quirky stage banter for posterity. As unexpected as the comments may have been, they helped to offset some of the emotionally weighty songs.
The show could have been billed as an “Athens Appreciation Evening.” With multiple thank-yous to locals David Barbe, Shonna Tucker and Bachmann (who moved his Crooked Fingers project to Athens after several years in North Carolina), Case seemed especially grateful to the town.
After a short break, Case returned to the stage with Bachmann and his “Swiss Army Knife of a guitar” to offer a singular performance of “Sleep All Summer,” from Crooked Fingers’ 2005 release Dignity and Shame. Although hardly as dynamic as some other songs during the set (there were a quite a few instrumental freak-outs earlier on), it demonstrated Case’s vocal prowess even with little instrumentation to back her up.