The edges were all blurred when Neko Case played the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater Friday night. Her music doesn’t fit comfortably into country, pop or rock categories, her songs (especially from her most recent Anti album, “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood”) have the unresolved mystery of a fine short story, and her band plays with an echoing, rattling grace. Case presents herself as a study in contradictions: one minute joking about her problems wearing high-heeled shoes on stage, the next lecturing a couple of fans in the front of the aud, telling them to get along or she’d jump into the crowd and kick their asses.
Case is the most emotionally affecting singer working today. Her tone is rich and comforting, but there’s an edge, a touch of danger running through. She could carry the torch or she could drop it and light the cornfield on fire. “The most tender place in my heart is for strangers,” she sings in “Hold On, Hold On.” “I know it’s unkind but my blood is too dangerous.”
Her backing band, plays music that’s oddly shaped and hazy but perfect; ancient yet immediate, it wraps itself around Case’s voice for maximum impact. The sounds veer to the low end of the spectrum: Case plays a baritone guitar and Paul Rigby’s guitar and Jon Rauhouse’s banjos and steel guitars have their treble controls turned down, while the echo on Sean Dean’s double bass fills up the sparse arrangements. Only the incomparable Kelly Hogan joins Case on the top, on songs such as “That Teenage Feeling,” her lovely backing vocals gently nudge the music toward pop.
The result sounds like something you’d hear coming from another room in a dream. When you wake up, you’re not sure what you’ve heard, but Case’s voice is so arresting, you go with it. Impossible to hold and equally impossible to forget, it’s a voice that remains with you.