Last night at the Nokia Theatre, her second and final New York show this week, it almost seemed like Neko Case was angling for a shock-jock gig: With her sassy lead backup singer as a sidekick, she did a squeaky imitation of her mother explaining men’s interest in “blowjobs,” called the city of Seattle a “dirty bitch,” and generally kept a steady stream of cheery patter going between every song. Then, suddenly (but never soon enough), she’d start singing, opening up her tremendous voice like a police cruiser responding to a call. The transitions were a little jarring, but they were two sides of the coin that is Case’s currency: unchained intimacy.
If there’s a song off the predictably terrific new Middle Cyclone that she played at the show and that sums Case’s worldview up, it’s the entirely earnest “I’m an Animal” (“you’re an animaaal, too …”). Whatever its exact form, whether a jokey overshare or heady, heartbreaking melody, Case’s intimacy is feral, and the band’s presentation subtly reinforced that: Case stood in skyscraping heels and a dress that evoked (for us, anyway) an animal skin, and she kept twisting her ropy hair around. This in contrast to the four laconic, unflashy (and spot-on) men on instruments and especially the perfectly made-up main backup singers, in black dresses and careful hairdos. The set swelled louder and louder, but that’s not to say the audience did anything other than stand transfixed — like in all her music, Case’s wildness is just a function of you dreaming along with her.