Neko Case ramps up to a fantastic performance

Sam Hays

From Sunday at Zilker Park to Tuesday night at the Moody Theater, Neko Case remains at large in Austin. Hot on the heels of the release of her latest critically acclaimed album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, Case brought her act to downtown Austin to tape an episode of ACL Live TV’s 39th season. 

For a singer-songwriter whose confidence and strength is always evident in her albums, Case started timidly, missing a note here and there, making awkward jokes with the crowd during song transitions and remaining stiff behind the microphone. Maybe it was the close proximity to the crowd, the expensive cameras or the fatigue that comes with touring, but one thing is certain — Case’s signature vigor was lacking in her first few songs.

Allow her a few songs to warm up though, and Case comes to life. Her pitch is perfect, her awkward jokes become clever banter and her stiffness loosens up to reveal a relaxed, poised Case — the one that her albums lead us to believe in. By the end of the show, she was a sight to behold — full of energy with the whole crowd on her side. 

Case’s discography transitions from alternative country to indie rock, and Tuesday’s setlist showed respect for the variety of fans she has. Newer, more alternative tunes as well as the older, traditional songs were played, and fans appreciated the entire spectrum.     

Case also played some sparkling, brand new songs off of her latest album. The soulful chorus of “Night Still Comes” had the crowd singing along even though it was likely the first time many of them heard the song. The live rendition of the album’s closer, “Ragtime,” impressed with its catchy melodies and brilliant live instrumentation. 

Whether it was an old or new song, the common thread throughout Tuesday night’s performance was the strength of Case’s voice, which is her trademark. Even during her weak start, she knew she could lean on her voice as a crutch, and it was her voice’s strength that pleased the crowd and in turn gave her the confidence to put on an overall excellent show. The band played off of her energy — the guitars rushed to the foreground when they were needed and melted to the back when they weren’t. Her backup singer hardly missed a note and hilariously served as her partner in bantering with the crowd.

That is not to say the show was flawless. A recorded concert, ACL Live allows artists the luxury to redo songs they feel they need to perfect for the TV audience. The band restarted “Wild Creatures” after an initial false start, which Case jokingly blamed on the type of guitar pick she was using. The group also redid three previously performed tracks, much to the glee of the audience, after the taping was over. 

Aside from a cold start and a few minor mistakes, Case’s episode of ACL Live will not disappoint. Her songwriting and bold voice carried the performance, but when she began to take the stage with more gusto toward the end of the show, it turned the set from solid to fantastic.

Catch Neko Case at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on the Austin Ventures Stage.