Ray LaMontagne took the stage at Wellmont Theatre Thursday night to screams shortly after 9 p.m. Known for his shy demeanor, it was still a shock that he said little to the audience, except the occasional “Thank you” throughout the first 10 songs of his set. Playing track after track, the crowd didn’t seem to mind as they proved to be ardent fans, continuously yelling, “New Jersey loves Ray!”
Beginning with lively number “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame)” LaMontagne grabbed each concertgoers attention right off the bat at his sold-out show. With his rustically raspy and captivating vocals, it’s these attributes and his constant fluidity that sets him apart. While some songs played were dark and somber ballads of heartache and loss like older tracks “Trouble” and “Jolene,” others were more romantic and upbeat. Singing praises to Meg White of the White Stripes in, aptly titled song “Meg White” (“Meg White, I saw you on the big screen/Old Jack was keen/But you stole the scene”) or a lover as heard in “You Are the Best Thing,” LaMontagne kept all in attendance anxiously waiting on the edge of their seats for the next song.
Playing many tracks off his most recent critically acclaimed album, Gossip In the Grain, as well as some old fan favorites, it was hard to grasp which song was the audience favorite as screams echoed throughout the venue at the beginning of each song. Textured guitar and pedal steel accompaniment infused with his emotional lyrics was truly an experience one can only witness live.
His nearly 90-minute, 17-song set was interwoven with beautifully descriptive and moving lyrics. On soft, emotional ballad “Empty” LaMontagne sang, “And of these cut-throat busted sunsets, these cold and damp white mornings/I have grown weary./If through my cracked and dusted dime-store lips/I spoke these words out loud would no one hear me?”
In addition to LaMontagne’s solid performance on vocals and guitar, his band — consisting of electric guitar, bass, drums and pedal steel — impressed the crowd with colorful interludes on tracks like “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame)” and country number, “Hey Me, Hey Mama.”
LaMontagne’s music can be described as a fitting blend of folk and country. In fact, he told the audience about his keenness of country music. “I love country song structure; the simple hook and telling a story. It’s really nice and it’s really fluid.” From the look of it, LaMontagne’s song structure is well respected by many as he received a nearly five-minute standing ovation before his encore performance.
While some concertgoers may prefer a performer with quirky onstage banter prefacing each song, sometimes no words need to be spoken. Ray LaMontagne proved Thursday night that truly good music speaks for itself.
Watch below as Ray performs "Empty," currently one of my favorite songs by him. What do you think? Listen to him on MySpace.
You can also read this review posted on Filter-Mag.com here.