November 5, 2014
Ray LaMontagne’s fans were thrown off by the direction he went on his fifth studio album Supernova, released earlier this year. Lamontagne recruited Dan Aurerbach of The Black Keys to produce the album. The songs are his most polished to date, and with Aurerbach at the helm, Supernova is largely influenced by late 60s psychedelic pop. It is quite the departure for the New Hampshire-based singer/songwriter.
On Saturday, Ray Lamontagne performed at Ovens Auditorium. Ray and his four piece backing band, led by bassist Zachariah Hickman, brought their Supernova-supporting tour to a packed house. While the small, rather generic theater offers little in character or mood, the acoustics were great and the music sounded incredible. The stage’s backdrop behind the performers featured an array floating colors and swirls; it lent itself well to the psychedelic pop songs from the new album. A large orb hung in front of the screen, changing and transforming from sun into moon, among other mind-bending imagery.
The first four songs of the set were Supernova cuts “Lavender,” “She’s the One” and “Pick Up a Gun” and “For the Summer” from 2010’s God Willin’. The songs set the tone for an evening that offered an eclectic mix of genres and moods. The audience stayed glued to their seats throughout most of the evening. Polite applause after each song was followed by a few seconds of eerie silence as the band readied themselves for the next one. In fact, the politeness of the audience led to some humorous comments from LaMontagne: “So, you guys are being so respectful. It’s very unusual. Don’t be scared. I won’t curse at you. Sometimes I think my reputation precedes me. I don’t yell at everyone. Just the assholes.” Some got the joke, referring to an incident in July where LaMontagne walked off stage during a performance in Grand Rapids, Michigan due to a chatty audience. An invitation for the crowd to dance was taken by a few enthusiastic show goers during “Repo Man.” The rest briefly rose to their feet, but it wasn’t until the last three songs of the night that the audience left their seats again.
Ray stayed put at center stage throughout the evening, feet firmly planted, with little movement other than leaning back and forward towards the microphone. A three-song acoustic set in the middle of the performance left LaMontagne and Hickman alone on the bare stage. They have done acoustic tours together in the past, as recently as 2012. As the other band members were leaving the stage, a request from the audience for older songs was given a reply: “You do know I just finished a new record? This is not an acoustic show, motherfucker! But since this is the acoustic portion of the show, it would be my pleasure to play some old songs.” The audience enthusiastically received “Burn,” “Trouble” and “Jolene,” all from LaMontagne’s debut album.
The rest of the band returned to the stage for a rendition of “Meg White,” a song about the White Stripes drummer. “Old Jack is great, don’t get me wrong / But this is your song.” Midway through, we heard a brief rendition of the familiar cadence from the White Stripes’ megahit “Seven Nation’s Army”; Dum… dun dun-dun-dun dun-dun-dun-dun.
The first encore brought the crowd back to their feet with “Hey Me, Hey Mama” and a fantastic new song called “Drive in Movies.” A good portion of the crowd was heading for the exits when the band returned for one more. LaMontagne issued a challenge to the standing audience. “See if you can get this one.” “You are the Best Thing,” from 2008’s Gossip in the Grain finished off the evening, followed by a quick “Thank you” and “I’ll see you later.”
All and all, the set, featuring 19 songs from four of his five studio albums, represented his catalog well. I recently read a 1975 Rolling Stone interview from Neil Young in which he discussed the price of change and the impact in may have on your fans. The audience stayed glued to their seats though out most of the evening. Discussing his follow up to Harvest with Cameron Crowe, Neil said, “I can’t write the same book every time.” “I would have painted myself in the corner. The fact is I’m not that lone, laid-back figure with a guitar. I’m just not that way anymore. I don’t want to feel like people expect me to be a certain way.” Ray LaMontagne could follow worse career paths than Young’s. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t paint himself into a corner. His real fans will follow.
Listen to the album Supernova by Ray Lamontagne