music review

Ray LaMontagne mesmerizing at Blue Hills

PORTLAND, MAINE- MAY 27, 2014 Bassist Zachariah Hickman during the first concert on Ray LaMontagne's East Coast Tour. (Greta Rybus for the Boston Globe)
Greta Rybus for the Boston Globe
Ray LaMontagne (left) peforming with bassist Zachariah Hickman in Portland, Maine.

Singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne has never been much of a talker during his shows, preferring to use his smoky rasp to express himself in song.

Friday night, during the first of two shows at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion (formerly the Bank of America Pavilion), LaMontagne was so moved by the joyful crowd participation during the performance of his breakthrough hit “Trouble” he seemed compelled to comment.

He noted, with tangible wonder, that it had been 10 years since the release of that song and album, which propelled him into a successful, critically-acclaimed, Grammy award-winning career. “It’s crazy,” he said. “Thank you all for making the past ten years so great. I really mean it.” He repeated that last phrase two more time for emphasis.


As gracious as that was, the real gratitude was evident in LaMontagne’s expansive, nearly two hour performance that traveled from hushed acoustic brooding to sunny, psychedelia-tinged garage pop and included a healthy portion of his sonically ambitious new album “Supernova.”

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While not exactly Dylan at Newport, there was a stark difference in tone between the new tunes for which LaMontagne would strap on an electric guitar and the older, more pastoral acoustic gems.

The songs cohabited nicely, however, with several new tunes providing jolts of warmth, energy and quirkiness to the proceedings. Highlight of the new included “Airwaves” which featured a woozy tropical vibe, the intense wolfen growl of “She’s the One” and the retro rocker “Lavender” which came complete with kaleidoscopic video accompaniment. (Given the fragrant smoke wafting through parts of the tent, no doubt some audience members were having a particularly vivid video experience.)

That said the night’s crowning jewel was an acoustic set that featured just LaMontagne and his musical director-bassist Zack Hickman center stage.

The two musicians were locked in sync, with Ray perhaps the focal point but Hickman every bit as crucial in creating the tender atmosphere with his nuanced playing and harmony vocals on a handful of songs including the aforementioned “Trouble” -- lifted to another plane as the crowd transformed into a backing choir-- the delicate “Jolene.”


In addtion to Hickman, LaMontagne was backed by the members of the night’s first act the Belle Brigade, who proved simpatico sidemen on the journey adding downy, Beatlesque harmonies and supple instrumental support.

Equally complementary were openers Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit who got a nice response from the early crowd for Isbell’s searing country rock with the churning “Stockholm” and the slow burning favorite “Outfit” capping a typically strong set.

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David McWane cites his top Boston venues

Sarah Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman