Bliss is scarce these days.
The relentless drumbeat of grim news, wretched behavior and ugly attitudes can make moments of unadulterated pleasure feel even more intense than they might otherwise.
How else to explain exiting the Granada Theater into Dallas’ frigid dampness early Sunday morning, yet feeling as if you were floating on a ray of sunshine?
The answer is simple: Neko Case.
Her 105-minute headlining set on Saturday was nothing less than pure, uncut joy — a snug, satisfying hug of a performance, and a night of music lifting spirits more effectively than any antidepressant ever could.
Although Case has been recently passing through Dallas with some regularity — she opened for Ray LaMontagne last summer in Irving, and joined k.d. lang and Laura Veirs at the Winspear Opera House in 2016 — it had been, by my estimation, five years since Case last headlined Dallas.
Her absence didn’t diminish her fondness for the Granada stage: “Thank you for having us back,” Case said near the night’s conclusion. “This city is so lucky to have a nice place to come. It’s warm, it’s fuzzy — and it’s handsome.”
That Case and her six bandmates (bassist Lex Price, guitarist/vocalist Rachel Flotard, vocalist Shelley Short, drummer Kyle Crane, guitarist/keyboardist Johnny Sangster and multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse) can so effortlessly conjure such bonhomie is an interesting paradox, given how many of Case’s songs revolve around themes of searching, longing and loneliness.
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Consider the lyrics of “Halls of Sarah,” from the singer-songwriter’s latest studio album, Hell-On, which made its appearance late in the evening Saturday: “A childless widow of a nation / You cry like guns across the water / Yet we expect you to bring springtime, it isn’t fair.”
It’s a bleak image, but one which the flame-haired Case and her collaborators conjured in arresting fashion, letting the song’s stanzas stack atop one another, Case’s captivating, cut-glass voice glittering against Flotard and Short’s crystalline harmonies.
However dire the imagery, the beauty resided in the delivery. Even finicky gear couldn’t distract from the loveliness; Rauhouse, in particular, was bedeviled by technical hiccups, but the adaptable musicians turned the potential frustration into something of an amusing, running bit.
The trick of spinning gloom into gorgeousness was one the 48-year-old Case pulled off with aplomb throughout the night. The Washington state native drew the setlist from across her two-decade career, reaching as far back as 2002’s Blacklisted (for early highlight “Deep Red Bells”).
Switching between guitar and tambourine, Case is able to bend just about any genre to her will and make it sound extraordinary — the broken, bleary country of “Calling Cards,” the shuffling folk-rock of “This Tornado Loves You” or the punky sarcasm of the main set closer “Man” — like a transmission from some heavenly plane.
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In glancing around at the near-capacity crowd, bundled up and pressed together in near-reverence — signs were posted asking those in attendance to forgo phone usage during the set, and blessedly, there wasn't a glowing smartphone screen to be seen throughout the venue — it was possible to see many mouthing along, lost in the elation of hearing a favorite tune.
Case sings, as she did during Saturday’s encore, of “holding onto that teenage feeling,” which is an apt summary of the prevailing mood in that room, hearing those songs, as Dallas descended into chilly, wet darkness.
But for me, the more fitting description of Saturday night’s defining sensation is found in Case’s cover of Freakwater’s “Hex,” which made an appearance: “Here all alone in the dark / I know just how you feel.”
For a little while, performer and audience were alone together, standing in the dark, lost in mutual euphoria.