Neko Case @ Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

I ended up going to this concert by a fluke, randomly deciding to scroll through the Melbourne Recital Centre program on a whim one evening two weeks ago. Hooray for random flukes.

I’ve been following Neko Case sporadically over the years, and I’m very glad I got to see her live again, because the previous time I saw her about nine years ago remained in my memory as one of my worst concert experiences ever. There was nothing to fault vocally or musically, but it was clear that, for whatever personal reason, Case wanted to be anywhere else but the stage that night. She was so obviously miserable and detached and not into it, it was simply impossible to enjoy the gig. At the time, people whose opinions I trusted had assured me that I had the bad luck of catching her on an off night, so I welcomed the chance to overwrite the bad memory with a good one.

This time, my night almost got marred by my own poor decisions. Every time I drive into the city, I seem to get amnesia and forget how horrendous the mid-week traffic and parking is around there. I just made it through the painfully slow crawl before the Princes Bridge, when I thought, ehh surely I can find a free street space along the gardens instead of selling my soul to Wilson Parking, and turned around. But nope, the streets were already lined with parked cars, and just for pure comedy I got stuck behind a horse and carriage for a while. With not much time left before the show, I began to panic slightly, when I finally found a spot within a ten-minute walk from the venue. Crisis averted.

Because I got my tickets so late, I ended up sitting at the back of the balcony, but at least it gave me a chance to fully admire the beautiful Elisabeth Murdoch Hall (even though its wooden interior does make me think of a giant sauna). The audience veered towards artsy and middle-aged, and no annoying people sitting next to me thank god.

The night successfully washed away all the disappointing memories, with Case and her band of musicians in a fine and definitely not miserable form. Case came onstage wearing a black sparkly top and funky black pants with a skeleton print, which went well with the vaguely carnivalesque feel of the stage design. Her songs are rightly lauded for being intricate and literate, but Case’s biggest weapon is her remarkable, clear-as-a-bell voice, possessing power and purity that’s absolutely enthralling to hear live. And this time she did want to be there! Her relaxed and often kooky and random banter with her two female singers/musicians at times created an awkward vibe in the audience, a bit like trying to tell a silly joke to a person you don’t have the right rapport with. But at least it was great to see her having a good time onstage. I recalled her distinctive mannerisms from nine years ago, like shuffling from foot to foot during the performance, but altogether it was like watching a different person.

I didn’t expect to recognise all the songs, especially as the night leaned heavily on the newest album that I haven’t yet properly listened to. But I was happy to hear a few picks from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, my personal favourite, as well as a few other older alt-country/torchy songs.

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