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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Fair
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Neko Case gets the love as the New Pornographers play the Orpheum Theatre

Neko Case's vocals were powerful and crystal-clear, rising effortlessly over thick layers of bass and guitar.
Neko Case's vocals were powerful and crystal-clear, rising effortlessly over thick layers of bass and guitar.
Credit:Jessica Steinhoff
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A.C. Newman may be the leader of the New Pornographers, the eight-piece Canadian indie wonder that cruised through the Orpheum last night, but the spotlight sure loves vocalist Neko Case.

A crowd of record-collector types at the front chanted, "Neko, Neko!" A gaggle of girls at the back professed their love for her 2009 release Middle Cyclone -- admitting, unapologetically, that they haven't heard the New Pornographers' new album, Together. It's pretty clear that any band Neko's a part of is going to be her backing band.

Never mind that Together is the focus of this tour. Never mind that the redheaded siren played the tambourine while the rest of the band showed off their skills on numerous guitars, synthesizers and even an accordion. And never mind that she botched her lyrics at one point because she was laughing so hard. For a lot of fans, this show was about ogling, not observing the band's great technical skills.

Don't get me wrong: Neko's completely worth ogling on the strength of her vocals alone. They're powerful and crystal-clear, rising effortlessly over thick layers of bass and guitar. Plus, they're delivered with such confidence that you might think she was a queen -- if you didn't already know her as the queen of indie.

But come on, people: There are seven other musicians in this band. Some of them, such as Dan Bejar, the frontman of Destroyer, are obsession-worthy as well. And even those who aren't put on great show last night.

As Bejar wandered up to the mike, beer in hand, for "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras," a gem from the band's 2005 release Twin Cinema, it was clear that the New Pornographers don't think of their shows as concerts but as party-time games.

Keyboardist Kathryn Calder unveiled an accordion during the next tune, "Adventures in Solitude," lending the ballad an air of French carnival music as her vocals waltzed through the air with Newman's. Meanwhile, Neko seemed lost in thought, or a dream perhaps, her head swaying side to side as she provided backup.

The party took a dancey turn when the group rolled out "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk," a new tune destined to become an anthem in coffee shops and dorm rooms this year. Neko transformed into a cheerleader, clapping out rhythms and nodding at the audience. Pretty soon, Calder joined in, proving that she's ready to lead the crowd when she tours in support of her solo debut, which comes out next week. However, Neko grabbed the spotlight back quickly for the slow burner "Go Places," channeling Aimee Mann during the verses and her own solo work during the chorus.

When the band returned for an encore, they took a moment to analyze the crowd's cheers.

"Did someone say 'Meatloaf'?" Newman asked, feigning confusion. "Did you know Bat Out of Hell is the number-five best-selling record of all time? That's better than Springsteen."

Knowing how to please her audience, Neko took the conversation in a Wisconsin-themed direction with a Happy Days reference.

"I have a friend who said the other day, 'When I listen to Bruce Springsteen, I feel like I'm listening to the Fonz,'" she said, making the packed house giggle before launching into "Testament to Youth in Verse," a favorite from 2003's Electric Version.

"I don't know much, but other singers know less," she sang, waving her arms back and forth. "And can we control ourselves for once?"

And the crowd answered, waving their arms in reply as if to say, "Not a chance, Neko. Not a chance."

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