Last September, Neko Case was set to visit Memorial Hall at UNC Chapel Hill during a fall tour supporting her universally acclaimed seventh album, Hell-On, which had been released earlier in the year. The album was born out of Case’s strength in the face of adversity after enduring losing her home to fire and having her privacy invaded by a local newspaper. So, when the pending arrival of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina forced the show to be postponed, there was really no doubt that come Hell or high water (in this case widespread flooding), that Neko would find the time to return and once again triumph over adversity much to the delight of her patient fanbase. With a new winter tour under way, Case did indeed return to honor her commitment and play to a packed Memorial Hall.
With the eager crowd providing an enthusiastic reception, Neko’s six bandmates filed out onto the stage taking their places beneath four large beehives suspended above. With the cheering reaching a fever pitch, Neko made her way to the center and the set kicked off with “Pitch or Honey,” followed by “Last Lion of Albion” matching the opening one-two punch of Hell-On. From there Neko reached back to 2002’s Blacklisted for a stunning version of “Deep Red Bells” that showcased her impressive vocal prowess. Whether delivering alt-country twang, pounding rock and roll, or more complex orchestration, Case’s backing band, including long-time compatriot and multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, were a tight unit that always managed to provide the ideal lush musical underpinning to her hypnotic voice. Even the subdued and often moody lighting that washed the stage with shadows added to the dramatic atmosphere. With each new song Neko and the band seemed to grow in confidence as they worked through a setlist that drew from across her 20-plus year career. Highlights included, “Margaret vs. Pauline,” “Maybe Sparrow,” “Oracle of the Maritimes,” and “This Tornado Loves You.”
Throughout the evening Neko seemed relaxed and downright jovial as she joked with members of the band and the audience between songs. She also took several opportunities to sincerely thank everyone who made the effort to wait out the extended postponement and attend the rescheduled performance. The crowd was well-behaved and appreciative, remaining respectful and attentive throughout the evening. However, by the time the set closed out with rousing versions of “Hold On, Hold On,” and “Man,” fans were on their feet dancing and cheering. The band left the stage to an energetic ovation, before returning to send everyone home with a generous five song encore. The joyous performance was certainly worth the wait…
Opening the evening was Canadian singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle. Highlighted by a single spotlight, and backed only by her lone guitar playing and occasional harmonica, Castle performed songs from her fifth and most recent album, 2018’s Angels of Death. The stark performance managed to engage the crowd, both in spite of, and through, its simplicity.