Published Dec 01, 2018Honorary Vancouverite Neko Case returned to the city last night with fellow New Pornographer Dan Bejar (Destroyer) in tow, playing to a generous, sold-out room. Case performed in support of her latest album, Hell-On, her first in five years, and it was clear that Vancouver had been longing to see her again.
First, Bejar took to the stage with an acoustic guitar, displaying the side of himself that can be eclipsed during Destroyer's raucous, full-band shows. He was in good spirits and full voice, playing tracks from across his discography before capping off his set with what he explained was a standard conclusion to his "solo concerts": "Don't Become the Thing You Hated," off of 2004's Your Blues.
Case, in contrast, was accompanied by a six-piece band, who took over the stage shortly after a pre-recorded message instructed concertgoers to refrain from taking photos and videos during her set. The audience complied and were fully present in Case's cross-genre, heartfelt performance, which leaned heavily on material from Hell-On. Case embraced juxtaposing drama and subtlety, from opening her set with "Pitch or Honey" onwards. It was intriguing to experience the shifting sections of her tracks, executed by a band who were highly versatile — Case's backup singers played guitar and percussion, and her guitarist-keyboardist elevated songs carried by the remaining members of the band: drummer, bassist, and lap steel/guitar player. Case and her backup singers mastered their harmonies, allowing the music to gain additional texture.
Case performed her more country-inflected tracks, mid-tempo numbers, and rock songs, which had all hands on deck — walls of guitar still allowing room for her voice. It was during the times when Case's vocals were at the fore, that her writing was laid bare, its strength evident. "Calling Cards" from 2013's The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You stood out, with it's gentle delivery and clear honesty. She channelled her inner lounge singer on "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)," the stage dimly lit as her backing singers left the stage to put all focus on Case's prowess.
Her affinity for Canada was genuine, expressed through her introduction to "Oracle of the Maritimes," calling for more songs to be written about New Brunswick, to recalling the importance of Vancouver to her — where she began performing in bands and spent her art school days at Emily Carr University, her arms emblazoned with the title of one of the painter's works.
Although audience members weren't as familiar with Hell-On as Case's previous work, the impact of hearing its songs live could be felt by those in attendance. "Halls of Sarah" featured a compelling narrative amidst beautiful vocal harmonies, Case singing the line, "She didn't ask to be your remake or your muse," depicting a character stripped of agency.
The encore, featuring Middle Cyclone's "The Pharaohs," prompted excitement and recognition from audience members who had clearly forged a deep connection with the track. It's steady guitar and percussion created space for Case's voice to ring out. The evening was a triumphant return for Case, who reciprocated the warmth that the Vogue Theatre beamed towards her.