Neko Case Orpheum, Vancouver BC, September 20

Neko Case Orpheum, Vancouver BC, September 20
Photo: Emily Shur
Although she was born in Virginia and raised in Tacoma, this was something of a homecoming celebration for Neko Case. She had come back to Vancouver, the city where she hooked up with Mint Records and the New Pornographers (some of whom were in the crowd this evening), and made indie rock history. The exchange of love between herself and the city was palpable, but she earned every iota of their respect.

Case is a hell of a performer. She took to the spotlight like a swan to water — one that has been through some shit and isn't afraid to show its scars. Her style of country pulls together all the unabashed moxie of Loretta Lynn, the gangsta swagger of Johnny Cash, the poetic vulnerability of Patsy Cline, the rich, modern country love of Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet's Whitehorse, and the dark humour of Harry Nilsson heckling the Smothers Brothers into one explosive package.

Case was all business for first three tracks, until she played an "oldie," "Lion's Jaws" from 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. It was then she started to engage in some of the off-the-cuff banter with her back-up singer Kelly Hogan that has made their live shows such a treat, which included the starting bid of a Tragically Hip tighty-whiteys auction, tripping balls to Wake Owl, the "murdery" sound of jingle bells, and a rip-roaring back and forth about Hogan's menopause and Case's overwhelming fertility, the latter having so many eggs that she likened it to taking a bath in tapioca pudding.

Case sang with her head held high, her voice truly coming to form when she locked in harmony on "The Pharaohs" from 2009's Middle Cyclone about a quarter of the way through the set, and she joked like a sailor on shore leave, typically picking at her psychological wounds in a humorously self-deprecating fashion. Yet, there was a world-weary glint in her eye simmering under a streak of grey hair at the front of her auburn mane. This glint seemed to express some of the weight of the tragedies that have mounted in her life, having to fight through depression and the deaths of her grandmother and estranged parents in the course of making her latest and greatest album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.

As ever, Case used whatever uncomfortable feelings that may have been bothering her to deliver a captivating, heartfelt performance, backed up by a stellar band that included upright bassist Tom Ray, rhythm guitarist Jon Rauhouse, ever-smiling drummer Dan Hunt, Eric Bachmann on keys and guitar, and the supportive voice of the aforementioned Hogan. By the time they hit "Deep Red Bells" from 2002's Blacklisted, a smile had worked its way onto Case's face, and it stayed through the pained a cappella observation "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" (what she called "free-form scat") and the suitably tender "Margaret vs. Pauline" to the show's bittersweet conclusion. All told, Case clearly demonstrated her superlative, emotional vocal prowess, a voice so sweet and honest that it feels like it might cause you to burst into flames and burn away the impurities on your soul just by hearing it.