Neko Case at Riverside Theater
The singer-songwriter takes it down a notch behind the new Middle Cyclone
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Neko Case has long seemed like a star, but only recently has she begun the process of actually becoming one: Her latest record Middle Cyclone debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, and she’s graduated to larger venues on her latest tour. Here in Milwaukee, Case moved on up to The Riverside Theater for Saturday night’s show after ticket sales proved to be too robust for original venue The Pabst Theater.
The success Case is enjoying is obviously the result of shamelessly courting hip soccer moms and drooling indie rock dorks, right? Well, not exactly. Case is one of the few chart-toppers who can say “I don’t care about what people think of me” and actually sound sincere. Her personal motto may well be “I don’t care about people,” period. A staunch animal rights activist and an indifferent human being supporter, Case makes her loyalties clear on the single “People Got A Lotta Of Nerve” by making the killer whale eating “half your leg and both your lungs” the song’s hero. (Sorry dudes, but “I’m a man, man, man / Man, man, man eater” does not refer to Case’s budding MILF-dom.)
If given the choice between performing for a roomful of people or dogs on Saturday, Case would likely have preferred canines. (Playing with dogs owned by Riverside staffers before the show was a “big morale booster” on this second-to-last tour stop, Case said at one point.) But the audience did its best to make up for its lack of tails and extra legs by loving the shit out of every single thing Case did onstage, even her gentle mocking of the “sausages and bowling alleys” of Milwaukee. (Attention tourism ad wizards: This “third coast” thing isn’t working yet.)
Having one of the most effortlessly transfixing voices in music today apparently buys you a lot of points with people. It’s an increasingly rare attribute for a singer-singer like Case to not push too hard; you won’t hear her perform super-human feats of vocal prowess that set off car alarms and win televised talent shows. On songs like the beguiling “Wish I Was The Moon Tonight,” Case just opened her mouth and let her honey-coated voice pour out over the audience like warm water.
Case was more subdued on Saturday than she has been on past tours, staying more faithful to the dreamy swirl of her records. This suited the Middle Cyclone material, including her ace cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me,” but it also sacrificed some of the rowdier elements of Case’s music. As much as I like Middle Cyclone, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s almost a Sarah McLachlan album in disguise. I’m just saying I could have used a Loretta Lynn cover or something. But, for the most part, Case was enthralling. Don’t forget you? Don’t worry about it.