Neko Case Fort York, Toronto ON, September 20

Neko Case Fort York, Toronto ON, September 20
Photo: Atsuko Kobasigawa
Neko Case set out her mandate for her TURF appearance right away. "We're on tour for our box set [Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, out November 13], so there'll be lots of deep cuts. Lie down and get comfortable," she explained. Not many of the enamoured audience lay down, but they and Case were clearly equally comfortable in each other's presence regardless.
True to her word, she did go deep, reprising some rarities from her extensive discography and mixing in some better known tunes too, like "Hold On, Hold On," "This Tornado Loves You" and "The Needle Has Landed." Less is more seemed to be another mandate here too, given the reduced size of her band. Absent were her regular drummer ("He's just had a baby, the cutest fuckin' thing you've ever seen," said Case) and long-time comrade Kelly Hogan (who was away with the Decemberists), while joining her onstage were guitarists Jon Rauhouse and Eric Bachmann (ex Archers of Loaf) and stand-up bassist Tom V. Ray.
The sparse instrumental setting worked well, though comparative band newcomer Bachmann's work was a mite pedestrian, as on "Man"; it would be nice to hear Case with a real pro roots guitarist like Buddy Miller sometime.
The key instrument onstage was of course Case's gorgeous and ever-vibrant voice, one that shone a warm light over the proceedings. Her vocals were never better than on "Look For Me (I'll Be Around)," a cover of a tune popularized by Sarah Vaughan that reaffirmed Case as a torch singer with few equals. Judging by the loud cheers it elicited, I wasn't the only one who considered it a set highlight, along with an acoustic guitar and voice take on "Vengeance Is Sleeping" and a killer version of "Blacklisted."
Throughout her set, Case was in typically chatty and unscripted form. "I can remember I'm wearing the same pants I wore at TURF two years ago but I can't remember my social security number," she cracked at one point. After lamenting she'd forgotten her coat (it was getting chilly), one fan offered hers up. "Good job, nice lady," was the response. At another point, she noted, "it's been a shitty week, but thanks to you for making this worthwhile."
Case has had a career-long love affair with Canada, and it's mutual. During her encore segment, she sincerely thanked "all the Canadian musicians and producers I've worked with." That was a cue to close out her fine set with a cover of a Canadian song, Sook-Yin Lee's "Knock Loud." Some of us would have preferred she reprise (fellow Polaris nominee) Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Soulful Shade Of Blue," but that's a minor quibble.