Neko Case Trinity-St.Paul's Centre, Toronto ON April 17

Neko Case Trinity-St.Paul's Centre, Toronto ON April 17
Unanimous praise for Neko Case's new album, Middle Cyclone, has been accompanied by high chart positions and now a sell-out tour. Choosing Trinity-St. Paul's for her Toronto dates proved a perfect marriage of artist and venue. Case has largely left the honkytonk behind in her music, and her rapidly growing success dictates a move away from bars and into soft-seaters. Or, in this case, hard church pews!

The church setting didn't dampen the singer's natural and refreshing onstage exuberance, with constant hitching up of her pants and cocaine references as two of the running gags. Her backing singer, Kelly Hogan, again proved the perfect foil, vocally and wit-wise.

Case's 90-minute set (including her typically extended encore portion) relied heavily on songs from Middle Cyclone, plus some cuts from Fox Confessor, so anyone expecting a career retrospective culled from a now lengthy body of work may have been disappointed (though long-time favourite "Deep Red Bells" was a highlight). Judging by the standing ovation at the end of the night, they were few in number. This was well-deserved acknowledgement of a consistently compelling performance.

The oft-intricately layered songs on the new record translated well live, thanks to a top-notch band spearheaded by her long-time guitarists Paul Rigby and Jon Rauhouse. The slower, sparser material like "Prison Girls, (a self-described "spooky song"), "Margaret Vs. Pauline" and "Pharoahs" (one of many co-writes with the Sadies) really worked here, as Case's powerful and passionate voice spiraled up and around the church, enveloping us all in a warm glow.

Evocative images were constantly projected on the screen behind the band, but they were occasionally a distraction, as on the busy sequence accompanying "People Got A Lotta Nerve" or the too literal footage of tornadoes ("This Tornado Loves You") and tigers ("The Tigers Have Spoken"). A minor flaw in a near-perfect performance.