Neko Case has grown a devoted group of Kiwi fans over her past eight albums but last night was the first time she had made it to New Zealand to see them.

The tiny red-headed American alternative country singer had a band of quirky Southern folk in tow - a double bass, banjo and eight guitars between them.

They could have been playing in a tavern in Arizona, the way they batted jokes and made fun of one another.

But despite Case and band's understated and relaxed demeanour, it was a slick and powerful show.

Case's phenomenally rich voice bounced off the walls of the theatre and tingled her audience as she sang her sometimes mournful, sometimes ridiculous songs about everything from the weather to animals to love.

Case has often spoken about her dislike of autotune, which removes the emotion and reality from a singer's voice.

Last night her raw and unwavering vocals cast a healthy dose of brilliant music that made you want to jump in a clapped out car and road trip through barren countryside with the windows down.

Opening with Things That Scare Me from her 2002 solo album Blacklisted, and moving into the elegant Maybe Sparrow from 2007's Live From Austin, TX, Case then sang almost every track from last year's album Middle Cyclone, with smatterings of earlier hits in between.

Playing the new and old alongside one another showed the distinct differences between her earlier, linear songs and the more recent ones that feature choruses the audience could sing along to.

A few very minor technical glitches were blamed on a "rockin' poltergeist", and Case's jovial back-up vocalist filled any spaces between songs with her Southern wit.

Deep Red Bells from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood had the crowd clapping along to the tempo change and some of the fans were dancing by the final song of the set This Tornado Loves You from Middle Cyclone.

Returning for an encore, Case stretched her vocals even higher in Vengeance Is Sleeping and topped off her performance with the tambourine-smashing Train From Kansas City.

It was her friendly Southern accent and beautifully delivered songs, and not the January heat, that melted he mellow audience, and they hoped that when she said she would be back, she really meant it.

* Neko Case plays at the Bruce Mason Theatre on January 19