For those of us who are retrospectively inclined music-wise, last Friday night at the Beacon Theatre was a dream come true. Ray LaMontagne put on a show akin to those we might imagine were performed back in 1971 when guitars reigned supreme, or perhaps back in 1968 when light shows were still a thing.
The collective emotions produced by those onstage and off vacillated between groove-yourself-into-feeling-good and self-reflect-yourself-into-feeling-reverent. Whatever end of the spiritual spectrum one found oneself on at any given moment during the concert, it was the hip place to be.
LaMontagne and his backup band, which included the excellent brother-sister duo The Belle Brigade (who also provided a stellar opening act of their own tunes), offered up selections from this year’s far-out(!) album Supernova; “Lavender,” “She’s the One,” “Airwaves,” and the show-stealer “Supernova” (the song) were of note. Ray’s greatest hits canon made up a large part of the show’s set list as well; “New York City’s Killing Me,” “Trouble,” “Repo Man,” and “Jolene” gradually generated eureka moments.
The best bit of the concert may just have been the acoustic set halfway through, when LaMontagne and his musical director, slash one of the wow-est bass players around, Zachariah Hickman, went to town on the best of Ray’s ballads. Stripped down and bare, the songs’ power was more immediate, and LaMontagne’s understanding of and allegiance to the history and evolution of the rock-pop-folk (ropolk?) singer-songwriter was undeniable.
For example the vividly lovelorn “Jolene” (JT covered the song in concert on this summer’s tour, just for further verification of its relevance to the mainstream modern world)—it pays homage to Joni’s “I really don’t know love at all” lyric in her classic “Both Sides Now,” yet stands alone as a masterful song of its own.
The lines “Lately my hands they don’t feel like mine / My eyes been stung with dust, I’m blind / Held you in my arms one time / Lost you just the same” rival Elvis Costello’s for writerly economy (“Oh, I said ‘I’m so happy I could die.’ / She said ‘Drop dead,’ then left with another guy.”) Hickman threw forth enthusiastic, spot-on bass solos left and right with terrific sincerity, on both stand-up and electric—truly impressive stuff.
Consider for a moment Ray’s voice—it’s brilliant—a mix of Van Morrison and Stephen Stills with a twist of Joni Mitchell’s syllabic syncopation. It’s got a whole lot of heartsewn rasp—at its best moments, Ray’s rasp-o-meter stays stable with a bit of gravel accenting a strong melodic line.
The voice was on vibrant display during Friday night’s concert, his singing full of raw emotion as usual, plus a sort of this-is-it desperation that is frequently responsible for churning out some of the best art known to humanity, the kind that lasts. This may have been due to the fact that this last night was THE last night of nights for a while—LaMontagne’s been on tour since spring of this year and his stint at the Beacon Theatre was tying it up. Ray also stated to the audience, more than once, “This is it.”
When he hesitated to elaborate on what that meant exactly, a momentary air of gravitas hovered over the tiers of the hall, something only audience nerds, with a shouted assortment of encouraging yougotthisRay!s and weloveyouRay!s, could assuage.