Neko Case is so jetlagged she can’t remember what day of the week it is; the kind of frazzled that gives an anything-could-happen edge to her performance. In a sense, what happens at this intimate gig is business as usual: lots of fond teasing with her bandmates, particularly long-term collaborator Jon Rauhouse, and diamond-sharp renditions of lilting country songs roughened by the abrasions of punk. But because she’s here to celebrate the release of her career retrospective, Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, those songs tend to be older rather than newer: the bulk of the setlist dates back to 2002’s Blacklisted and 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, albums that established her as one of the most distinctively strange and enticing voices in pop.
It’s a voice at once pure and wayward, tranquil and urgent, plaintive and steely, yearning and aloof: a voice perfectly suited to circumspection and ambiguity. From the cry of “lost love” that opens Bought and Sold to the fraught relationship of This Tornado Loves You, Case takes pleasure in detailing every bump on the road to romance – but always with an air of self-sufficiency that, in Nothing to Remember, has her noting: “I don’t have a heart you can break.” Her play of contrasts is even more intriguing when applied to the subject of gender: in Vengeance Is Sleeping and Man, she could be singing from the perspective of a male character or expressing the blur of masculine and feminine within her own soul.
Her musical backing seems simple – guitars, pedal steel, double bass – but isn’t. The bleak chords of Blacklisted tilt like trees in a tempest; Ghost Wiring starts as a plodding waltz but grows wayward as the instrumentation refuses to meld. No tune behaves as you expect it to, and that suits Case exactly.