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Ray LaMontagne at Northrop Auditorium, 6/28/14

Ray LaMontagne at Northrop Auditorium, 6/28/14
Photo by Tony Nelson

Ray LaMontagne
With Hamilton Leithauser and the Belle Brigade
Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis
Saturday, June 28, 2014

A rainy Saturday evening in Minneapolis needed a soundtrack, and Ray LaMontagne's distinctive raspy voice lent the show at the newly remodeled Northrop Auditorium a backdrop that was sometimes melancholy and surprisingly psychedelic.

You can attribute some of the the trippy vibe to the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, who produced LaMontagne's latest foray, Supernova. No hallucinogens were needed as LaMontagne  played in front of a screen projecting images that were mind-bending enough. The set opened with the bright notes to "Gossip in the Grain," drawing cheerful hollers from the audience.

Dressed as if he was ready for an adventure out west, with his full beard and hat, LaMontagne moved through his pieces with little interaction with the crowd. The singer ignored the rowdy audience that got bolder as the show went on and would spontaneously call out with shouts of, "Ray LaMontagne is my hero!" LaMontagne did break that wall a few times throughout the evening, humbly saying, "Thank you. You all are so polite. Most of the time, by the third song in, most of the audience is pretty stoned, and we get our contact high."

Ray LaMontagne at Northrop Auditorium, 6/28/14

Much of the set pulled from Supernova, including the title track, which may be the happiest among the batch of new songs. "Airwaves" brought out the delicious textures in Ray's vocals; while the song was meant to sound like rough white noise on the album, live, it sounded more like tall grasses brushing against each other.

Ray knows the impact of his voice and uses it to entrance, be it in folksy pieces like "Beg Steal or Borrow" or the powerful "Meg White," his ode to the White Stripes drummer. How many people can include the line, "Baby, you're the bomb," in a song, yet make it still sound poetic? Only Ray LaMontagne, it seems. The track moves in waves of tempo changes from pulsing drums that rival a White Stripes song to a circus-like chorus to including the riffs from "Seven Nation Army."

 

Ray LaMontagne at Northrop Auditorium, 6/28/14
Ray LaMontagne at Northrop Auditorium, 6/28/14
Ray LaMontagne at Northrop Auditorium, 6/28/14
Photos by Tony Nelson

Throughout, the crowd sat politely in their seats, at times unsure of what to do. Although the sound was immaculate -- it's even better since the Northrop replaced a single balcony that sometimes muffled the sound with four tiered balconies -- LaMontagne's voice was sometimes lost in the live arrangement. Elsewhere it resounded with the help of his backing band that harmonized in chorus-like layers. Perhaps that's just the way he sounds live, so it was a welcome change when he switched over to his acoustic accompanied by his bassist on stand-up bass for "Jolene," and he shared the story of how he met the Zac Brown band when he heard them cover it one night. Later on in his career, Elvis Costello ruminated to LaMontagne that the powerful piece would follow him around for the rest of his life -- and it has.

From the standing ovation on, the audience was finally on its feet for the finale of the evening, bringing more energy into the evening. The singer didn't forget about his roots, pulling out "Old Before Your Time" from the Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs era to a revamped "Hey Me, Hey Mama." While he never even hinted at playing his big hit "You Are the Best Thing," the folksiest track off Supernova, "Drive-in Movies" would suffice. The track is the most autobiographical song on the album, and draws from his days in Nebraska when he was so poor he had to jump in the back of his uncle's truck to catch a movie. When he wails out, "Now I'm grown and have kids of my own/I never thought that I could be a dad/Me and my girl going strong" for the old-time fans, it's a declaration of success from a childhood that was so heartbreaking.

Critic's bias: I've been a Ray fan for many years when I thought I was being "edgy" for liking someone who no one knew about. His new album is amazing, and while I was impressed for the musicianship from him and his band during the evening, the evening felt a little staid. Most likely it was from the audience's compulsion to sit in their newly built seats.

The crowd: More middle-aged than Gen Y.

Overheard in the crowd: "I'm surprised at how many men are here. Maybe they're just hoping to get laid tonight."

Random notebook dump: Ray LaMontagne's bassist, Zack Hickman, has an uncanny resemblance to Koo Koo Kanga Roo's Neil Olstad. It must be the mustache.

Setlist

Gossip in the Grain
Lavender
She's the One
For the Summer
Pick Up a Gun
Supernova
Airwaves
Ojai
Beg Steal or Borrow
Smashing
Jolene
Trouble
Like Rock & Roll and Radio
Meg White
Julia
God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise

Encore
Old Before Your Time
Hey Me, Hey Mama
Drive-in Movies

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