After a harrowing incident that involved a group of drunken loiterers and an out-of-commission tour bus on the streets of Reno, Neko Case and her band pulled in last-minute to the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre. They began soundchecking about the time gates were supposed to open and the long line of attendees who had queued up for the show, previously a little anxious to get into the venue, seemed renewed to hear Case’s voice give a quick preview of the night.
Case, also a member of The New Pornographers, drew what felt like a sold-out crowd on this hazy Sunday night in SLC. Some of them reported to have been camping out for hours before doors opened. Among the coolers and blankets was a diverse and dedicated fanbase that clearly included the original followers of The New Pornographers (some bringing their kids along with them), older new-wavers, those who probably were Neko Case concert veterans (sporting Bonnaroo ’04 tees), and the indie representatives of the younger millennials.
To this fanbase’s delight, A.C. Newman (aka Carl Newman) took the stage with Zach Djanikian for a laid-back opening set before the sun went down. Newman talked a little about his time touring and the general state of the world in between songs, which wove a perfect acoustic-guitar toned preface for the main act. Though Neko Case defies one singular genre classification, most can agree that her lyrics and the power in her music touch on the most difficult of life’s events in a way that is visceral-lite®: I’m paralyzed and collared-tight / No pills for what I fear. Her voice can be thunderous and sweetly cool all at once. Something that only seeing her live can really make seem real.
Calmness washed over the crowd following the excitement of Case taking the stage. She began with “The Pharaohs”. Accompanied by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Nora O’Connor, pianist and guitarist Djanikian, and vocalist and guitarist Newman, this would be a somewhat quiet set and fitting for a venue nestled in foothills near a babbling creek. “It’s so majestic and windy out here!” Case pointed out after “Hell-On,” which featured Djanikian on piano and a moment of blood-curdling screaming that echoed up the canyon. The breeze really did its part for the show, dramatically sweeping Case’s hair back as her vocals encapsulated the audience.
She grabbed an electric guitar for “Man”. Which elicited quite a few cheers from the audience and whistles amongst the applause. Before “Pauline,” she lovingly recounted her last time checking out the gardens at Red Butte. During which her band encountered a rattlesnake eating a family of baby birds in front of a group of kids on a school field trip. Fittingly, she dedicated the next song, “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” to the snake.
As the sun sunk behind the Oquirrhs, Case thanked the audience for showing up amongst the fires and virus. It’s a theme that probably won’t be going away for a long time. Being especially grateful for an opportunity to play live instead of through a screen or not at all. Just two days after this show in Salt Lake, Neko Case cancelled the last 4 stops of the tour due to a positive COVID-19 case amongst the tour group. Mostly joking, Case told the Salt Lake crowd “…that if we get COVID on this tour, it’s absolutely from Reno. There was just a lot of moisture coming at us. It was meant with love.”
The Salt Lake City crowd wasn’t quite as wild, but the audience did seem appreciative of the moment. Some getting up to dance during “Last Lion of Albion” and “Sleep All Summer”. The band was bathed in an orange glow from the lights above the stage, and occasionally the light would be caught by O’Connor’s or Newman’s guitar, reflecting and bouncing around the venue. A bat appeared and flew above the bandmembers’ heads during “Maybe Sparrow”. Attracted to the bugs that were surely attracted to the warm ambiance.
All members of the band rotated between instruments; after they covered “The Devil’s Eye” by The Go-Betweens, Case took up a tambourine for “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” and she grabbed a guitar while Djanikian broke out the slide for “Hex,” a more traditional country ballad. O’Connor played percussion for “Lady Pilot,” the last song before the band left the stage. The stars poked out of the sky as the crowd encouraged the band to reappear—after 18 songs, it felt like there was a possibility that they wouldn’t.
The group did reappear, thanking the crowd once again for being there that night and moving into “That Teenage Feeling,” on which O’Connor’s vocals shone. After “That Teenage Feeling,” Case mentioned that Salt Lake City was the last American date of the most recent New Pornographers tour, then launching into “Challengers” with Newman (to the resounding approval of the audience).
To conclude the night the first lyrics of “I Wish I Was the Moon” wafted through the air, and the crowd cheered again. For a moment, Case paused and bent over in laughter. “I’m sorry, I’m thinking about that snake,” the entire crowd laughing alongside her. The memory clearly stuck with Case, an awful but hilarious story forever synonymized with SLC. The stories like that one are some of what makes live music special, shared not only between the musicians but the people to whom they perform—a collective experience that hopefully, we can all return to sooner rather than later.
Reviewed by Katie Barber
Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth
Don’t Forget Me
Last Lion of Albion
Sleep All Summer
Be and Bring Me Home
Halls of Sarah
Oracle of The Maritimes
The Devil’s Eye
People Got a Lotta Nerve
The Next Time You Say Forever
That Teenage Feeling
Hold On, Hold On
I Wish I Was the Moon