By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 25, 2009 at 11:06 PM

On the second to last night of Neko Case's tour in support of her latest disc, "Middle Cyclone," the alt-country singer performed at the Riverside Theater on Saturday night.

The room was packed and there was hootin' and hollerin' -- as has come to be expected at Milwaukee gigs of late -- but despite the power Case packs in her pipes, this was one of her mellower performances.

Backed by a four-piece band that included her long-time guitar mates Jon Rauhouse and Paul Rigby (along with bassist Tom V. Ray and drummer Barry Mirochnick)  and was augmented by her pal Kelly Hogan on backing vocals, Case played a 15-song set -- plus a five-song encore -- that was marked by its lack of adornment and its intimate, tempered performance.

I've seen Case kick it into gear, but Saturday at the Riverside -- with her mane of barely-controlled red hair and wearing jeans and a sleeveless top -- Case played mostly mellow material and on the more uptempo stuff, she and her band relied on subtlety and dynamics more than sheer force.

Opening with "Maybe Sparrow" from 2006's "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood," Case stopped in to revisit that disc ("Margaret Vs. Pauline," "Hold On, Hold On"), as well as her 2004 Anti- Records debut, " The Tigers Have Spoken" ("Favorite, "The Tigers Have Spoken", only barely brushing up against the three discs she recorded before that for Bloodshot ("Deep Red Bells" and "I Wish I Was the Moon" from "Blacklisted").

Unsurprisingly, the set focused heavily on the "Middle Cyclone," recorded in Case's Vermont barn and released just weeks ago, and the disc's opener, "This Tornado Loves You," "Prison Girls" and "Don't Forget Me" were highlights.

The stage was unadorned except for a giant owl with illuminated eyes perched atop a video screen that played animations and other footage and was flanked by a pair of faux trees.

The lighting was subtle, too, and my only beef with the mix was that Case's vocals -- clearly the star of the show -- were sometimes overpowered and lost.

But 10 years into her solo career -- and a bigger star than ever -- Case remains chatty and affable on stage, cracking jokes with the crowd and nearly doing a stand-up routine with Hogan at times.

It's nice to see that as Case continues to mature (she's not playing "Honky Tonk Hiccups" much anymore, is she?) and to grow in popularity, she's not letting it go to her head nor is she letting it cloud the music.

Crooked Fingers -- the Denver band fronted by former Archers of Loaf catalyst Eric Bachmann -- opened the show with a set of dynamic modern folk tunes that were eclectic in their arrangements, and each satisying in its own way.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.