Neko Has Landed (in Lexington)

I don’t go to very many concerts these days, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go with Martha on Friday to see Neko Case when she made a stop in my neck of the woods. A little over a decade ago, I was completely blown away by her 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Since then I’ve checked out some of her other work, both from before and after.

The show was near downtown Lexington, at the relatively new and newly-renovated Manchester Music Hall. The building’s history goes back over a century, beginning as a distillery warehouse; most recently it had been Buster’s, a billiards/bar/concert spot. Security was fairly tight, as we had to show ID, empty our pockets, and submit to being wanded before we could enter (for all I know, this is standard operating procedure these days). The space behind the bar is large and wide open, with an elevated stage in the very back. While standing is not my favorite way to watch a show, it was fine. The acoustics were overall more than acceptable.

As for the music, I’ll start with the reason why we went. Case’s voice is a force of nature. She belted out just shy of two dozen songs over roughly ninety minutes and sounded just as strong at the end as when she started. Her voice is perfectly tailored for the alt-country/folk rock she favors on her solo works, but she also makes it fit right in when she’s hanging with the New Pornographers, the A.C. Newman-fronted group she’s been with for about two decades. Despite this being the next-to-last show in a 15-gigs-in-17-nights tour, she was playful, buoyant, and affable.

Neko was joined on stage by a guitarist who played a dizzying range of instruments, from steel guitar to banjo, a bassist who bounced between guitar and double bass (sorry I didn’t catch their names), and two female backups: Kelly Hogan, who’s worked with Case for years and occasionally contributed handheld percussion, and Nora O’Connor, who also contributed acoustic guitar. The harmonies were fantastic and the musicianship was top-notch. Neko played guitar on 40-50% of the pieces.

I had at least a passing familiarity with about half to two-thirds of the songs. She did five from Fox Confessor, including faves “Margaret vs. Pauline,” “The Needle Has Landed,” and “Hold On, Hold On,” though not “Star Witness,” the one I like best. She mentioned that she’ll have a new disk coming out later this year; I’m looking forward to it.

The opening act was Mt. Joy, a quintet whose leaders grew up in Philly. Two guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums. They describe themselves as indie folk, and played about eight songs over thirty-forty minutes. Matt Quinn, the front man, has some presence, but on the whole I didn’t find all that much that stood out—in particular, none of the keyboards, drumming, or back-up vocals made themselves felt. I liked the opening and closing numbers well enough, but the songwriting could use some work: they did one cover, Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” and the contrast in the quality of the lyrics was, well, I’ll leave it at decidedly noticeable. They’re recording their first album and playing SXSW in six weeks, though, so maybe I don’t know anything. I get that they’re still trying to figure things out.

I had a great time, and I think Martha enjoyed herself, too. Here’s another one from Fox Confessor that Neko sang at the show. It’s actually the first song of hers I encountered; I came across it on a blog I used to read, so maybe in some way I’m trying to pay it forward. If she’s new to you, I hope you’ll give her a spin.

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