By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 03, 2022 at 11:32 AM

Beloved Americana chanteuse Neko Case returned to The Pabst Theater on Friday night as part of an ongoing tour for her latest record, “Wild Creatures,” a retrospective of her 25-year career.

The tour is also ostensibly in support of the 20th anniversary of her beloved third LP, “Blacklisted,” though she didn’t especially focus on songs from it.

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It’s been five years since Case’s last Milwaukee performance and so, pandemic or not, she was due for a return. And what a return it was, with a roughly 90-minute as-warm-as-ever set – with lots of casual, witty banter (you know, about ghosts, her hair, etc.) – in an relatively low-volume setting.

It felt like a house concert – with a great band that included two of her colleagues from The New Pornographers – albeit in a really big, beautiful house with great acoustics.

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Bassist Nora O'Connor.
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You should have been there.

Case has one of the best voices around

As evidenced across her records Case can kick the Wanda Jackson sass, the smoky bar ballad the roots rocker and everything in between. Lest you think it’s studio trickery, see her live and you’ll release it’s nothing of the sort. Pure emotion and passion.

It was Case’s first Milwaukee appearance in five years

As noted earlier, Case whose first Brew City gig was at the 1998 Lilith Fair on the Marcus Amphitheater grounds, last played Milwaukee in 2018 – also at The Pabst, which has become her favorite haunt – and it had been five years before that that she had previously performed here.

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Guitarist Paul Rigby.
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So, who knows, you might have missed your chance for another five. But let’s hope not.

She played a career retrospective set

Case played tunes from across her long career, including “This Tornado Loves You,” “Last Lion of Albion,” “Hell-On,” “Favorite,” “Margaret Vs. Pauline” and the new “Oh, Shadowless,” among others. She also played her cover of Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” and a heartfelt reading of Crooked Fingers’ “Sleep All Summer.” From the 20-year-old “Blacklisted,” she did “Deep Red Bells, “Lady Pilot” and “I Wish I Was the Moon.”

I was only sorry that she didn’t touch my beloved “Furnace Room Lullaby” LP. (Neither was there anything from her 1997 debut, “The Virginian,” but that’s no surprise. I’ve seen Case six or seven times and she’s never played anything from it at those shows, that I can recall.)

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She dedicated a song to Dan Kubinski

Case is a big fan of Milwaukee’s Die Kreuzen and as she professed that love to the roughly two-thirds full Pabst – calling them one of the most influential bands and saying we must be excited they’re from here – someone in the crowd shouted out that it happened to be the birthday of singer Danny Kubinski, so Case dedicated the next song – “Callings Cards” – to him.

Happy birthday, Dan, indeed (now a day late)!

On a different note, at the end of the night, Case said that after his dad passed away that morning, her friend Jon Wurster requested she record her performance of "I Wish I Was the Moon." Before her especially impassioned performance she asked the crowd to deliver a recorded message and it was an honor to take part. Godspeed, indeed, Harry.

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Opening band, Disq, from Madison, almost stole the show

Madison’s rocking quintet Disq, whose debut, “Collector,” is out on Saddle Creek, with a follow-up ("Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet”) expected out next month, and their catchy tunes – fueled by some grinding guitars and solid drum and bass – and high-energy performance wowed the crowd.

The performance was so tight, so quirky and so infectious that the band got a standing ovation at the end – a rarity for an opening act. After the last note, I beelined for the merch table to buy the record. Here's hoping they were able to cover that $900 van repair.

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.