The significance of the former Hideout Inn barkeep’s hometown headlining show at the Chicago Theater was evident before it even began, as soul-singing legend Mavis Staples took her seat near the front row. Once Neko Case took the stage, her elegant voice illuminated the illustrious theater.
Following up on last summer’s headlining spot at the A.V. Club / Hideout Block Party (which also featured Ms. Staples), Neko began the evening with the moody “Where Did I Leave That Fire,” playing to a now more cavernous Chicago Theater. Three quarters filled, it stood in stark contrast to recent weeks when the venue hosted The National for an instantly legendary four-night stand, or when Neil Young showed how he’s been holding court at the site spanning five decades with a pair of shows. So Case’s six-piece band had a monumental task rivaling those, especially with a spattering of Blackhawks fans watching playoff hockey on their phones.
Wearing Pharaoh-designed pants, Case did her best to rule over the 3,500-seat theater, playing a nearly 30-song set featuring two encores, one of which saw openers The Dodos join on “Ragtime."
Bookending the initial set with her two most well known songs, “This Tornado Loves You” from 2009’s Middle Cyclone and her newest single “Man” from 2013’s tightly titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko played a crowd-pleasing set to the faithful who made it through.
Whether it was the distractions of the evening or the challenges of the venue, I expected a bit more from an artist I’ve seen reach higher peaks in smaller venues.