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Live Review and Photo Gallery: Ray LaMontagne with Neko Case at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island

| June 18, 2018 | 0 Comments

Ray LaMontagne with Neko Case

Friday June 16th

Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island

Ray LaMontagne

Ray LaMontagne was in a decidedly rocking mood as he hit the stage at Chicago’s Huntington Bank Pavilion. The day’s suffocating heat had finally been replaced with a dramatic drop in temperature and steady, cool breezes complements of Lake Michigan. It suddenly felt like a celebration from meteorological oppression. Currently on tour to support his most recent release, Part Of The Light, LaMontagne and his able, deliberate four piece band all but discarded the earliest parts of the New Hampshire native’s catalog. Perhaps the size of the almost full venue inspired LaMontagne to focus on the more uptempo selections from his most recent records.

Opener “Julia” stormed out of the gate like a thoroughbred awaiting an oat bag at the finish line. In fact, the majority of his sixteen song set seemed surprisingly aggressive and upbeat for an artist whose success has been built on singer-songwriter fare. Fortunately his backing band was more than up to the task. “No Answer Arrives” was all guitar menace and rhythmic posturing and “Hey, No Pressure” indulged in swampy grooves and mystic precision. When LaMontange slowed down the tempos, it became readily apparent that his craftsmanship in songwriting was the real star of the show.

“Drive-In Movies” felt as nostalgic as its subject matter, sending the listener back to a seemingly more innocent time and place. But the evenings highlight was “Such A Simple Thing,” a songs who’s title is practically a spoiler alert. It started with LaMontange and an acoustic guitar, center stage framed by a single spotlight. As the song slowly built itself up, his band fell in behind him, never giving the composition any more than it needed. His supple vocals earnestly sold the lines “Tell me what your heart wants/It’s such a simple thing/My heart is like paper/Yours is like a flame.” It was a moment of naked vulnerability, and, under the purple haze of stage lights and a soft focus crescent moon, it felt like the promise of summer would be fulfilled, even if it showed up ensconced in sorrow.

– Words and photos by Curt Baran

 

Neko Case

Neko Case returned to her onetime hometown on Saturday to introduce material from her new album Hell-On. The 50-minute set at Huntington Bank Pavilion made full advantage of the fine summer weather, and Case gave thanks for a beautiful evening. “It’s gorgeous,” said the alt-country singer in a broad accent, stretching the word to three syllables for emphasis.

The show began with “Man” from 2013’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Case and her six-piece band dug into the song’s declaration of confidence and identity with the roar of five guitars. Provocative and heady new title track “Hell-On” ruminated upon the nature of God and its non-conformance to earth-bound assumptions, before drawing parallels to Case’s own unconventional but sure-footed stance. At the song’s apex, Case built a keening siren wail with vocalists Shelley Short and Rachel Flotard.

Case kept a weather eye on the skies, and made offerings to the local residents at Northerly Island. “This one’s for the seagulls,” she said while introducing “Last Lion of Albion.” She also gave advice to those who were exclusively focused on the stage. “You know, if a seagull wants to share your french fries with you and you don’t, they go directly to the underworld and put a curse on you,” warned Case.

“You don’t know what to do with that, I know,” she added.

“Halls of Sarah” was a folk-spun portrait of a haunted and fractured character, taken advantage of by aggressors “loving womankind as lions love Christians.” The tone contrasted with the rowdy pop-soul crunch of “Bad Luck,” with the saddest, comical lyric Case could conjure. “So I died and went to work,” she sang, imagining a lamentable afterlife. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but it’s still pretty bad luck.” The song personified love as a meddlesome attention-seeker and described the trouble generated by its outsized space among human emotions. Girl-group harmonies by Short and Flotard provided the spoonful of sugar to hide the medicine.

The isolation and heartbreak of “The Pharaohs” from 2009’s Middle Cyclone was intensified by Jon Rauhouse’ weeping pedal steel guitar. “He’s good at that,” said Case, introducing Rauhouse after the song.

With her insistent acoustic guitar, Case propelled “Oracle of the Maritimes” as a song of trepidation in the face of self-doubt and certain love. “I’ve never been so scared of anything,” sang Case, answered by the comforting words of her seafaring oracle. “Come on, sweet girl, let’s find you an ocean that goes with your eyes.” Such cinematic language evoked vivid mind-pictures.

Afterward, Case revealed that it was sometimes tricky to maintain the image. “It was really hard to be cool during that song, because fuzz went right up my nose,” she said, referring to the dogwood drifting through the venue’s lakeside air.

The alt-country chime of “This Tornado Loves You” cast the singer as a destructive force of nature carving the name of her beloved across the landscape, desperate to be heard and loved in return. The yearning lyric was matched by Case’s expressive alto, a supple instrument with an arid desert twang around the edges.

“This one is for all the ladies who have ever been, or ever will be,” said Case when introducing new song “Winnie.” The song spoke to warrior spirit and undeniable strength – inspirational even when it may have been willfully obscured by history.

The set concluded with the 12-string jangle of Case’s confessional “Hold On, Hold On” from 2008’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. The song was sweet and melancholy, reminiscent of the Byrds, REM, or a sadder, spectral cousin of “California Dreamin’.”

“I miss Chicago a lot,” said Case earlier in the evening. “All the time.” Clearly, thousands would wait eagerly to welcome her back home anytime for an evening of evocative music as the sun set behind the city skyline.

Review by Jeff Elbel

Set list:

Man

Last Lion of Albion

Hell-On

Halls of Sarah

Bad Luck

The Pharaohs

Oracle of the Maritimes

This Tornado Loves You

Dirty Diamond

Winnie

Pitch or Honey

Hold On, Hold On

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