As visuals of fractals and swirling colorscapes floated across the large background screen Saturday night at the Susquehanna Bank Center, it became increasingly clear that Ray LaMontagne’s live performance was a whole different ball game than his last tour. We last saw Ray in 2012 on a solo acoustic jaunt which made a sold-out stop at the Tower, but this weekend’s not-quite-sold-out affair showed us just how far Ray has come in those two years.
Even though Ray’s signature smoky voice remains un-changed and impeccable, all but the oldest songs in his formidable library seemed to take-on just a little bit of the psychedelic influences found on Supernova. Although the new album is certainly solid, not all of the audience seemed thrilled with Ray’s setlist choosings, which leant heavily on new material. About halfway through the set during breaks between songs, one fan could be heard to loudly exclaiming “Pick it up!”
That particular fan seemed satisfied later on, after most of LaMontagne’s band exited the stage; a moment which found the songwriter stripped down and alone with bassist Zachariah Hickman (who has also toured with Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band) and performing some of his hallmark songs. As the honeyed tones of “Jolene” and especially “Trouble” rang out through SBC, the audience sat completely rapt by one of the most soulful voices of a generation.
For a short encore to wrap up the evening, LaMontagne went back to standby “Hey Me, Hey Mama” from 2008’s Gossip In the Grain, and then rolled into sprawling track “Drive-In Movies” to close out the night. Walking away from the night, the audience was certainly pleased to hear deep cuts intermixed with the new, and the interaction between the two makes for a refreshing take on both LaMontagne’s classic voice and songs.
Also joining LaMontagne on the bill were Los Angeles brother/sister pair The Belle Brigade (who also backed LaMontagne as parts of his band), and the country yet cliché-eschewing singer Jason Isbell.