As she makes her way to Manchester Music Hall next week, let’s recount a few examples as to why Neko Case remains such a fascinating and distinctive artist. Better yet, let’s parallel how most of those instances have coincided with other performance visits to Lexington.
At the dawn of the 2000s, a largely unknown Case played the long-since-defunct Lynagh’s Music Club on Woodland Ave. with only a few albums on Chicago’s indie Bloodshot label (1997’s “The Virginian” and 2000’s exquisite “Furnace Room Lullaby”) to her credit. Still, those records offered considerable insight into Case’s appeal by showcasing a voice of remarkable clarity while leaning to an atmospheric brand of Americana (then dubiously referred to as “alt-country”). Often caked in reverb, Case’s songs echoed within layers of mystery. The tone of her singing was almost traditional in a pop sense, but the ambience of the songwriting and production gave the music an often otherworldly accent.
Now fast forward to 2006. Case has become a critical favorite with a mounting international following. Admittedly, her dual role in the renegade pop-rock brigade The New Pornographers didn’t hurt her visibility. This time, though, the psychedelic inclined, neo-country Canadian band The Sadies shared the bill, both as opening band and as Case’s backing group. The music was drawn from the then-new “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” album, a scrapbook of ghosts and dark hometown snapshots that let that majestic voice wail with a sense of serene wonder.
Two notable appearances for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour followed – a 2009 set that came on the heels of her “Middle Cyclone” album and a 2010 outing where she and longtime performance pal Kelly Hogan served as backing vocalists for Jakob Dylan.
That brings us to January 2018 and Case’s last local outing, also at Manchester Music Hall. Her most recent album, “Hell-On,” was still six months away from release, but the singer offered no previews of the record. Instead, her show was highlighted by robust versions of the title tunes from “Fox Confessor” and “Middle Cyclone,” as well as one of Case’s greatest works – a remembrance of her Northwestern roots, along with the smalltown regret that goes with them, titled “The Needle Has Landed.”
What should we expect when Case touches down again in Lexington next week? Well, reports of recent shows have her revisiting gems from the early Bloodshot albums, like the gorgeously plaintive “Deep Red Bells,” along with gems from “Hell-On” that include the vintage girl group-charged “Bad Luck.”
“Are you tired of things going right?” Case sings in the latter song over a melody that is guaranteed to stay lodged in your brain for days. “Things going wrong? Tired of trying to make everyone happy? Too tired to sing your own songs?”
Given her many local outings through the years, the reply to that last question appears to be an emphatic no.
Two esteemed acts – one a nationally acclaimed Americana-and-more champion, the other a local favorite from decades past – take to venues in Louisville and Lexington for two-night engagements this weekend.
In Louisville, the ever-popular Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit will hold court at Iroquois Amphitheater, 1080 Amphitheater Rd. on April 19 and 20 (8 p.m., $62.50, $79.50). The Alabama bred artist has continually been a major draw in Kentucky (he sold out shows at Richmond’s EKU Center for the Arts in 2017 and 2018) with a brand of topically inclined, new generation Southern music. The April 20 concert is sold out, but tickets remain for the April 19 show.
Here’s the kicker. Each performance boasts a stellar opening act. The jubilant pop, soul and roots rocker JD McPherson kicks off the Friday outing while Jay Farrar’s latest incarnation of Son Volt (whose new “Union” is one of the most devastatingly blunt protest albums of recent years) will be featured on Saturday.
For tickets, go to iroquoisamphitheater.com.
Here at home, the whirling groove music of Catawampus Universe will take over The Burl Friday and Saturday. Throughout the ’90s, the Catawampus crew was a mainstay of the local club scene, conjuring hearty slices of ensemble funk and fusion that enlisted some of Lexington’s finest groove merchants – among them, drummers Dave Farris and Tim Welch, percussionist Tripp Bratton, guitarists Willie Eames and Eric Belt and bassist Steve Cherry
The band dispersed in 2002, with frontman Joel Crisp eventually relocating to San Diego. A reunion gig emerged in 2014 with another following last August. This weekend, Catawampus Universe returns after a mere eight month layover.
Club Dub, DJ Mizla and (Saturday), the Mecca dancers will open (9 p.m. $15, $20) each evening.
For tickets, go to theburlky.com.