A haunting Case of pain

American singer- songwriter Neko Case performing at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (2013) was forged in a time of loss and despair. You would not know it though from Neko Case's polite interactions with the audience.

The American singer - songwriter's new album was written in the shadow of the deaths of her grandmother and her estranged parents and contains some of her most personal work to date.

But she did not refer to the difficult circumstances or rocky relationships directly, preferring to speak through her music instead.

One of the key moments in the concert was when she performed the hauntingly spare Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.

It was just her voice and some vocal accompaniment as she recounted an overheard outburst from mother to child: "Get the f*** away from me!/Why don't you ever shut up?"

The connection seemed personal though when she sang: "They won't believe you/When you say 'My mother, she did not love me'."

The lyrics are often enigmatic though and on the wonderfully atmospheric Night Still Comes, she croons repeatedly: "You never held it at the right angle."

It is either an oblique admonishment or her advice to those who fail to take satisfactory selfies.

Regardless, there is a hint of huskiness at the edge of her voice that keeps the songs compelling. It was a versatile instrument that went from tenderly poignant on Calling Cards to ringing with accusation on Local Girl and the appreciative crowd took it all in.

The Grammy-nominated Case has often been tagged as alternative country and you can see why. Her music has some of that twangy melancholia of the country genre but it is more expansive and ambitious. Added to the mix of guitars and drums are the occasional banjo and tambourine and, memorably on Calling Cards, a trombone.

Meanwhile, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan provided some beautiful harmonies. She was also the one who engaged the audience the most, from encouraging people to just let go and yell "woo", to sharing that Singapore's heat was not friendly towards menopause.

Case and company also generated some heat of their own with Man. It came on with a swagger of guitars and attitude as she played about with gender identity, proclaiming "I'm a man" and provocatively declaring "you didn't know what a man was/Until I showed you".

The singer was one of the acts closing the Mosaic Music Festival on Sunday, bringing the 10-year well-loved event to an end, for now.

Until the next phase of Mosaic comes along, thank you for the music and for showing Singapore what a home-grown music festival can achieve.

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