A sweltering night in June would provide the backdrop for an intimate performance by Ray LaMontagne and Neko Case, who hit Austin on June 9. While Circuit of the Americas is a world-class venue, the summer months in Texas tend to take its toll on the audience situated in an open air seating arrangement. Yet, as if by design, the microwave heat dissipated and broke into a cool, easy-goin night in Texas, as Neko and Ray each played heartfelt sets.
Neko Case is considered a deity by her most ardent fans, evidenced from her early work in the New Pornographers, the iconic solo album Middle Cyclone, to her most recent album release, Hell-On. Neko Case has a sultry and smoky voice that taps into roots-based themes but has a unique rebellious streak that distances her music from other singer-songwriters. While Neko is showing streaks of grey in her famous red mane, her iconic voice is as fortuitous as it’s ever been.
Opening with songs “Man” and “Last Lion of Albion”, Neko greeted the growing audience with soothing tracks that would grow in ferocity and depth as the set continued. The highlights of her set landed on “The Pharaohs” and “This Tornado Loves You”, both of which evoked passionate responses from those onstage and the crowd. “I love you Neko!” was shouted almost constantly as Neko finished off her set and laid the groundwork for Ray Lamontagne’s upcoming set.
After a half-hour intermission, and a complete transformation as night fell over COTA, Ray Lamontagne took the stage playing electric guitar. Tracks like “Julia” and “Lavender” were effervescent opening songs that slowly built up harmonies and eased listeners into what would be a 15+ song set. Whether he is playing electric or acoustic, Ray Lamontagne has a distinct whisper-vocal that comes off as soul-flaying and intensely intimate.
Oscillating from down-home country with acoustic stylings to electric ramblings with British invasion harmonies, Lamontagne is devoid of snobbery and follows his heart on crafting songs. Seven studio albums and over a decade of touring and creating has left Lamontagne playing to a wide base of eclectic audiences. “Such A Simple Thing” and “Paper Man” elicited the greatest response, but it was the softer and more intimate tracks that made the night memorable.
While Neko Case and Ray Lamontagne may appear to have some significant differences in style and fan base, together they create an impressive showcase. Neko, with her soaring vocals and determined aura, may seem more formidable, while Lamontagne reciprocates with a soothing intuitive style. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect central Texas night than taking in both artist’s brilliant song catalogues under a violet crown sky.