Local tornado warnings preceded Neko Case's show, which is fitting given her obsession with them on her latest album, “Middle Cyclone.” The impending force of Case's April 6 show at The National may have set off a few radar screens.
As most of her followers will attest, the only thing more beautiful than a Neko Case song is one of them sung live by the flame-haired maven. Flanked by her consummate group of alt-country players, Neko unleashed the opening notes of “Maybe Sparrow” and immediately weakened the knees of a nearly sold-out audience. When she wasn't strumming her guitar, the Virginia native seemed obsessed with her tresses that she continually put up, then down, then up again before admitting that “the South does crazy things to my hair.” Refreshingly unfussy, she's not one to toil over appearances when it comes to her gigs and leaves glam for album covers. Neko live is all about that perfect voice.
Working back and forth between tracks from her latest disc and the beloved “Fox Confessor Brings The Flood,” the first part of the set found every twang and haunting melody played in perfect form. How you heard this, however, depends on where you were standing in relation to the stage. It's debatable whether or not the sound was up to par throughout the venue. Some folks in the audience Twittered complaints about the muddy mix just minutes into the show and the eventual persistence of those audible woes led one guy in the audience to retreat to the beer line assuaging what he called “noise that is completely ruining it.” Fortunately, the excitement stirred by John Rauhouse's steel slides leading into “Deep Red Bells” distracted everyone long enough to enjoy the murderous gem, before the sonic snags returned during “Prison Girls.”
Both Case and her songbird sidekick, Kelly Hogan, winced as their epic wails were scarred by shrieks and pops. Given the National's usual pristine acoustics, it was an obvious run of bad luck. The band hit a few bumps of their own when they launched into “This Tornado Loves You” out of time, wherein Neko promptly requested a do-over that resulted in a solid showing for the rousing cut. Case and Hogan exchanged a few witty remarks and confirmed that they've got a career in comedy if they ever tire of the music thing.
Throughout the 20-song set, old favorites like “The Tigers Have Spoken” and “I Wish I Was The Moon” sparked yips and woos from longtime fans, but it was the lonesome heartacher “Favorite” that left nary a dry eye in the house and found us all raising our beers “Amen” in chorus. It could have all been over right then and we'd have emerged full-up on soul-bearing and good times, but the ever kind Case offered up one last song, “Knock Loud,” to send us on our way. For those of us who could hear it, the show was the first good storm of spring.