You would expect a certain amount of confidence from someone like Neko Case with the extensive performing experience she has racked up over her vast career, and she brings confidence in abundance this evening at Union Chapel.
One of the most striking visual signifiers of this is her singing into a vocal mic pointing ever so slightly down towards her, so that her stance is powerful and full as she sings upwards into it.
It’s a mighty, proud posture that only emphasises her trademark powerful voice, especially combined with the subject matter of one of her opening numbers ‘Man’, from 2013’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.
Tonight is a good night to be a long time fan of Case without ever having had the opportunity previously to catch her live; as much as it is if you’ve caught her live multiple times, as she is performing somewhat of a career retrospective set in promotion of her recent boxset Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, a collection of her eight solo albums.
Between more well known singles such as the beautifully melodic ‘This Tornado Loves You’ to deeper cuts, such as her cover of ‘Duchess’ by Scott Walker (whom she keeps joking she feels is haunting the place), there is something for seasoned fans, newer fans and newer fans here, simply down to the familiarity of Case’s voice.
Backed by a bearded three-piece band who alternate between electric and stand-up basses, electric, acoustic and slide guitars, Case’s music toes a country line, but her voice which is almost more reminiscent of girl groups such as The Shangri-Las has always stopped it her music from becoming a country cliché.
Though her regular drummer is absent, having recently had a child Case explains, the faster songs are no less powerful and ramshackle, and the songs such as ‘Ghost Wiring’ from her back catalogue sound no less huge for it. Conversely though, these songs are just as grand and captivating as when two of the members leave the stage and it is just Case and an acoustic guitar, which occurs at regular intervals throughout the set.
The fictional style of songwriting runs throughout much of Case’s repertoire, and the frequent animal metaphors could allow for an audience to lose interest, such as in songs such as closer ‘Maybe Sparrow’ from 2006’s The Fox Confessor Brings The Blood.
However, tonight everyone in the audience is very willingly attentive, for it is again the power of the voice (particularly in this setting which is so suited to her music) which drives the storytelling, and Case’s songs in general.
Shows off the back of a career retrospective boxset such as this can sometimes fall flat due to a lack of excitement of new material, but such is the amount of songs Case can pull upon, and the circumstances and band setup under which she is playing makes for a fresh and dynamic show each time.