ALBANY — “How can I make you believe me?” pleaded Neko Case in “This Tornado Loves You,” the second song of her nearly sold-out show on Wednesday at The Egg’s (larger) Hart Theatre.
No problem: the velvet trumpet of her voice easily earned the trust of her audience. Case is a musical instrument of great persuasive power, emotional depth and soaring smoothness, thinly disguised on Wednesday as a slim, striking redhead in T-shirt and jeans.
Case and her quintet (or quartet) toggled between tunes from “Middle Cyclone” and its Grammy-nominated successor “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.” Quintet is full strength for her country-ish band: singer Kelly Hogan, drummer Dan Hunt, bassist Tom V. Ray and multi-instrumentalists Jon Rauhouse and Erich Bachmann. But when Bachmann broke a guitar string, Case lamented, “We’re breaking everything. We broke our bass player.” Ray had vanished early, not returning until encore time. Meric Long from openers The Dodos filled in at times.
Case sang with the clarity of a country singer but the force of a rocker in up tunes, or folkie subtlety in ballads. Some songs were short as country hits, with few stretching past radio length for the band to take wing and show they really know how. The new “Bracing for Sunday” and the vintage “Pharoahs” gave Rauhouse and Bachmann time to shine.
Otherwise the focus was on Case’s voice and songs in statements so concise that some seemed abbreviated.
“City Swans” and “Teenage Feeling” country-rocked gracefully, all in and strong; but some of Case’s most striking songs sounded sparser — especially the devastating “After Midnight, Honolulu.” The lament of an unloved child, this plumbed the depths in a close-harmony vocal duet by Case and Hogan. Later, Case dueted with Bachmann in the wounded nostalgia of his really touching “Sleep All Summer Long.”
Case freely renovated older songs, singing “Pharoahs” a good deal slower than on “Middle Cyclone,” but staying closer to the script in newer songs. At the end, though, with two of The Dodos singing harmonies, she lifted the vintage “Ragtime” to true majesty, a perfect frame for her mighty voice.
Totally fresh and unexpected — but serving flavors that fans of Radiohead, the Clash, Guggenheim Grotto, Fountains of Wayne and the Nels Cline side of Wilco would recognize and welcome — The Dodos startled and surprised.
With two guitars, a drumset and three voices, the trio ranged from the punky jam-down of “Confidence” to the surrealist waltz “Red and Purple,” with frequent noisy eruptions and turn-on-a-dime detours. Meric Long sang lead and played the spookiest guitar parts while drummer Logan Kroeber broke all the rules but not the beat. Guitarist Joe Haege colored outside the lines yet always within the songs.
Smart, original and restless, they used a shrewd melodic sense and nervous drive to keep from feeling like an art project as rock band. They ARE a rock band, of a refreshing, entertaining and idiosyncratic uniqueness.