Neko Case blew into Dallas on the whiplash end of the reversing polar vortex. Fortunately, Case's Thursday night Granada Theater performance generated a lush, radiating warmth. Along with her band mates, Case is touring in support of her recently Grammy-nominated album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Case's new music slips labeling because it's matured into something more than Americana. During last night's show, rather than merely referencing various musical styles, Case's signature sound emanated from the band's collaging country, r&b, rock, doo-wop, and folk on individual numbers.
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The musicians built this effect, in part, through the magical harmonies Case and backup singer, Kelly Hogan, pulled off throughout the show. On a few songs, the lead guitarist, Eric Bachmann or Dan Hunt, the drummer, would add a low end third part to the harmonies, invoking for me, surprisingly, a sonic spectrum running from Patsy Cline and Jordanairs to The Ronettes and on to Laura Nyro with LaBelle, thus a kind of history of American music. On "That Teenage Feeling," Jon Rauhouse plucked out the melody on the banjo while Case and Hogan stacked their voices soulfully in tribute to the angsty anxiousness of youthful love. Playing behind Bachmann's zipping lead lines, Rauhouse splashed colors across every song with flourishes on rhythm guitar and even Harmon-muted trombone. Rauhouse rubbed and picked the pedal steel with terrific elegance on "Set Out Running," the blazing lead track on Furnace Room Lullaby.
Case is a troubadour skilled at penning lean, sharp, lines into lyrical collages. She stacks broken loves and violent metaphors into legible truths. On "Local Girl," for instance, Case turned repetition and change into lament: "God damn the time and God damn the miles/ That take me away from you/ And change your face/ And change the way I love you." Late in the set that lamentation became "Night Still Comes," a song that sounded both like self-indictment and a direct message to a misunderstanding lover. Case and Hogan sang the hook with gentle accusation -- "You never held it at the right angle" - swinging into and out of gorgeous harmony on the line's natural rhythm. And that oscillation in rhythm and harmony made you hear that the speaker and the lover were mutually responsible for misplacing the love. Case also sang "This Tornado Loves You," about a love as forceful, destructive, and insatiable as nature itself - "My love, I am the speed of sound . . . What would make you believe me?" The song compels you to both imagine wonder of such a power and to be frightened of it. In another time or life maybe Case would have become a masterful literary artist. After all, as she sang in "Ragtime," the best of the encore numbers and the closing track on The Worse Things Get . . . , "I am one and the same/ I am useful and strange."