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Review: Neko Case at Brooklyn Steel

Review: Neko Case at Brooklyn Steel

The singer's latest tour coincides with the release of "Wild Creatures," a retrospective album celebrating her two-decade-plus career

Neko Case is one of the artists I've seen the most, and last night made it five times. I've loved her since the mid-00s (I nearly skipped my high school prom to see her perform) and will continue to be a fan for as long as she makes music.

Last night's show at Brooklyn Steel was another triumph, not just artistically but also personal comfort-wise: the crowd was attentive, polite, and cellphone-free, and there was enough room for me to grab a roomy spot near the back, complete with a fire extinguisher end table for my beer. It was the perfect vantage point from which to watch Neko, an artist who, with her signature holler and mane of terracotta hair, has been crafting and performing songs about the destructive beauty of nature for over two decades.

Neko starts the show with "I Wish I Was the Moon," a lovely ballad from 2002's Blacklisted. This is always a crowd favorite, and feels especially fitting considering the near-full moon I noticed on my walk to the show. The examination of the self through nature's impartial lens is a thread that runs through Neko's work, and as she croons and wails, clad in her signature skeleton pants, we hang on to each and every word.

This theme is perhaps the most blatant on the next song, the rollicking "This Tornado Loves You," the opening track from Middle Cyclone. Simply put, this song slaps. It is peak Neko, her voice itself a cyclone ripping through the crowd as she unfurls the dreamlike tale of a lovelorn twister making its way through the countryside and destroying everything in its path.

Next up is "Hell-On," the title track from the 2018 album, followed by "I'm An Animal" from Middle Cyclone. With lines like "God is an unspecified tide" and "I'm an animal/You're an animal too," these songs further underscore Neko's interest in the ability of humans to mirror nature's inevitable chaos. When these numbers are finished, Neko reveals that it's her fifty-second birthday: "I feel like I'm totally myself and so f-ing dangerous," she says, and the crowd goes wild. Then we sing as one, and Neko beams. It's a sweet moment of connection and it feels particularly gratifying to celebrate one of my favorite artists on such a personal level.

"Last Lion of Albion" and "Deep Red Bells" follow, along with a duet of Crooked Fingers' "Sleep All Summer." Then comes one of my favorites, "Margaret vs. Pauline," from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Inspired by the book In Watermelon Sugar, this song feels like a folk tale set to music. It tells the tale of two women, one the flawless image of perfection and the other a sickly, clumsy oaf. (It's also worth noting here my idea for a future Neko t-shirt: If you can't handle me at my Margaret, you don't deserve me at my Pauline.)

Next up are two covers: Sparks' "Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth," which Neko introduces by saying "This song's about nature--it makes us its bitch every day," followed by "The Devil's Eye" by The Go-Betweens, a song I've never heard before. Finally we're back in Neko territory with the deep cut "Favorite" from 2004 live album The Tigers Have Spoken. "Oracle of the Maritimes" from Hell-On follows, along with the brief "Outro With Bees" from Blacklisted.

At this point in the show Neko starts firing off the hits. "The Pharaohs" and "Hold On, Hold On" are each a top tier Neko track, not only for their inventive storytelling and captivating imagery, but because they showcase the full power of her voice. I've always said it's a thrilling mix of Patsy Cline and Linda Rondstadt, but it's not until the final song "Maybe Sparrow" that I realize there's a bit of Patti LuPone in there too. Neko's ability to slide from full-throated, chesty wail to soaring yodel reminds me so much of PLP in this moment that I am shocked I've never noticed it before.

For the encore, Neko chooses "Vengeance Is Sleeping," "Halls of Sarah," and another favorite of mine that I haven't heard her play in years: "Star Witness," from Fox Confessor. She then bids us farewell and we make our way into the night. As I walk away from the venue, I find myself observing the world through a Neko filter: the leaves are whispering, the wind is running, and the crickets sing. I continue down the street, the gravelly crunch of my shoes doing their best to add to nature's symphony.

From This Author - Daniel Nolen

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