Intimacy is the last thing you might expect.
To be among the thousand-plus audience below gilt, cathedral ceilings and beautiful antique architecture, there is risk of being lost among the sea of faces, among the rows and rows of seats. Maybe it comes from decades of performing, of containing a masterful talent, but whatever it is, no one was lost among the waning melodies sailing about the room. Because when Neko Case sang, she sang for you and you alone — or, at least that’s how it felt.
The Carolina Theatre in Greensboro was suddenly near capacity on Jan. 23 when headliner Neko Case and her band came onstage. The beautiful theater sat silent with a soft murmur of voices awaiting the music; the auditorium walls themselves seemed to be longing for melodies and poetry. Soft lights reflecting off instruments, holding them in a tranquil aureole of quietude, moments before they were to sound. But the sound did not come with a bang, with a grabbing, flashy hook. It came with a whisper, a simple wave and humble greeting, and the serenade began.
While many fans know Neko Case from her collaborations with such acts as the New Pornographers, with whom Case finished touring this past fall for their seventh album, as well as the Dodos and the Sadies, her solo career has garnered numerous accolades of Grammy nominations and Artist of the Year awards; it has taken her across the world on tours and has made her somewhat royalty in the indie scene. With such myriad of albums and nearly limitless credits bearing her name, there is certainly room for the distant, snide assumption that Case would be snobby or jaded when it comes to her fans, her performances. Yet, this is simply not the nature of Case nor her music.
Falling somewhere in the perfect mix of indie, folk, post-rock and Americana, Case’s voice shares equal parts beauty and power, a hint of rugged soul threaded into her melodies. With a headful of brambled auburn curls tumbling down her back, Case’s microphone angled just high enough to make her lift her head and stretch her neck, as if she were aiming her voice up towards the heavens. Her eyes seemed to touch everyone in the audience, seemed to peek directly at each individual for a moment, as if to sing a line directly to them. And whether or not this is a conscious habit of Case’s, the result is a warm, close air that fills the vast space between performer and listener. In a room as big as the Carolina Theatre, it was amazing to feel so close to not only Case as she sang, but to everyone in the room, a union of souls with one transcending purpose.
For tour dates and to listen to music, visit nekocase.com and mtjoyband.com.
Philadelphia-based indie band Mt. Joy, the opening act for the night and for the month-long tour, warmed up crowd with a tight, perfected set. While still just finding their footing in the music scene, Mt. Joy will be putting out its debut record in March. With a sound comparable to Vampire Weekend, Head & the Heart and the Lumineers, Mt. Joy was a perfect fit for Case’s set. And yet, while the mostly undiscovered band found an amazing break in hitting the road with Case, Mt. Joy has begun to make its own mark on the music world.
“We’re all a little distracted at the moment,” guitarist and founding member Sam Cooper said standing at the band’s merch booth after their set. “We just found out that we’re playing Conan next week.” (The band’s network television debut was set to air on Wednesday.)
The crowd was elated, almost entranced as the night carried on, hanging onto every line Case sang with rapturous applause. In the aisles, a few fans stood and danced, disinterested in the eyes that might be watching. Connected, intimate — it might be the last thing you’d expect from such a name as Neko Case. But beyond her long career, beyond the peaks of celebrity and success, it comes down to the music. The chance to let people share in what you love seems a romantic notion, but it’s what sets Neko Case apart.