From the get-go, I'm going to just say right up front that I went to Wednesday night's Jakob Dylan & Three Legs show at The Pabst Theater because of the words "Neko" and "Case."
I've always been lukewarm on Dylan's music as a soloist and as frontman of The Wallflowers. Pleasant enough songs like the much-overplayed "One Headlight" were enjoyable enough but never sent me into spasms of joy.
On the other hand, since the first time I heard an advance of Case's "Furnace Room Lullaby" 11 years ago, I've been hooked and have seen Case in three cities and in a number of different musical settings over the past decade.
If Dylan was hoping that he'd win over some of their crowd by bringing Case and her sidekick Kelly Hogan along for the ride, he was right in at least one case.
Focusing mainly on songs from his latest solo disc, "Women and Country," which features Case and Hogan, and which was produced by no less than T Bone Burnett, Dylan also performed a couple Wallflowers favorites and a smattering of songs from his 2008 solo debut, "Seeing Things."
Opening with "Nothing But the Whole Wide World" -- a song that conjures the melodies of "Tunnel of Love"-era Bruce Springsteen -- it was immediately apparent that Dylan's new songs would get a boost from Case's involvement. And not just because of the simmering quality of her voice, which is so strong that she often had to back two feet off the mic to prevent her harmonies from overshadowing Dylan's low rumble.
No, Case's contribution also came in the form of her extremely strong band, grounded by the acoustic bass of Tom V. Ray and drummer Barry Mirochnick. On these songs, guitarist Paul Rigby and steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse paint in the same haunting hues that distinguish their weighty contributions to Case's oeuvre and provide a different take on the recorded versions that also feature strong musical personalities like guitarist Marc Ribot.
When you learn that Case and Hogan were never bathed in the spotlight -- perhaps it shouldn't be expected since it's Dylan's gig -- you won't be surprised to learn that I thought it was a missed opportunity. If you're going to bring two strong personalities and voices on the road, why not give them each at least one moment to let loose?
Instead, Dylan sort of promised a duet with Case that turned out to barely feature her on "Smile When You Call Me That." Hogan, on the other hand, got one shimmering verse on The Wallflowers' "Three Marlenas," that drew raucous whoops from an audience that appeared clearly hungry for more from the ladies. In fact, Case got the loudest response of all (Dylan included) during band introductions.
Dylan's new songs -- as well as the ones he played from "Seeing Things" -- were a seamless blend of country, folk and roots rock and were almost without exception satisfying slices of pop Americana.
After a 16-song set, Dylan and company returned for a two-song encore that touched on both discs -- "On Up the Mountain" from "Seeing Things" and "They've Trapped Us Boys" from "Women and Country."
With that the almost sedate (read: mature) crowd -- which filled the lower level and spilled up into the mezzanine -- filed out. If they were disappointed at not hearing more Neko they didn't let on. And, while I certainly went hoping to hear more of her, I admit that Dylan impressed me enough that I didn't much regret anything about the evening.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.