Photos by Ty Hyten
The Scene: Last Thursday was another scenic evening at Red Rocks, with dramatic clouds only giving way to a brief shower between acts. Fans came not knowing what version of Folk star Ray LaMontagne they’d find – the acoustic guitar cradling singer-songwriter from Trouble or the ballsy rocker from this year’s Supernova. The set was a taste of both and the fan reaction was just as mixed.
Opener: The Belle Brigade. L.A.’s The Belle Brigade opened the show with a catchy set of melodic Folk. Led by siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska, they unassumingly played through a good chunk of both of their releases. Songs like “Where Not To Look For Freedom,” “Rusted Wheel” and “When Everything Was What It Was” were infectious and easily consumed. The high vocal harmonies and Barbara Gruska’s drumming made for a truly stellar backing track for mingling fans spread up the tiered seats under ominous skies.
Ray LaMontagne: “When I started out ten years ago people said I was a flash in the pan. Bullshit. That flash is gone. Love me or hate me I ain’t going anywhere,” said Ray Lamontagne halfway through Thursday’s nineteen song set. It seemed the soft spoken troubadour had not only taken to new sound on Supernova, but a new attitude as well. The often timid performer had transitioned from his standard position at stage left, facing in, to center stage and he pushed his raw, soulful voice and stage movement to new limits on cuts from the new album, which occupied half of the set list.
The fans, perhaps not coming expecting that level of intensity, sat motionless as Ray and his band tore through five songs from Supernova to start the show. This bewildering behavior continued much of the show and it took the encore to get concertgoers on their feet. The division between new and old was clear, with Ray setting classics like “Trouble,” “Burn,” and “Jolene” aside for an acoustic run that stole the show. It was those three songs that generated the most applause and stirred up the deep swell of emotion that Ray invokes so expertly. Many of the older fans in my section stood up and left as the full band returned to the stage.
While I was in the camp that the acoustic songs were the most powerful of the evening, the full band was well worth staying for. Ray’s five piece band contained The Belle Brigade siblings, occupied the drums and the keys/guitar. The scalding “Repo Man” and “She’s the One” had Ray feverishly howling like a coyote with smoking habit, and the band playing with Grunge Rock intensity while others like “God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise” and “For The Summer” showcased a dynamic Folk-Country sound.
The night ended with an encore that was a good representation of the entire show. The band played a notably high energy “Drive-In Movies” and the twangy sing-a-long “Hey Me, Hey Mama.” Ray and the band waved goodnight and left the stage but the house lights stayed dark and Ray quickly returned to end the evening accompanied only by upright bass player Zack Hickman for a soulful, gut wrenching “Shelter.” This final encore showcased the best elements of the night perfectly and it was the power of just Ray’s voice, his acoustic guitar and an upright bass that will stay with me from this outstanding evening at Red Rocks.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: C