Ray LaMontagne at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Ray LaMontagne’s latest album, Supernova, released two months ago seems to have thrown a fair portion of the reclusive singer’s fan base for a loop. Judging from comments posted online, many fans want to like the new album, LaMontagne’s fifth studio release, but have struggled to adjust to a divergent sound that is much more polished and produced (some would say overproduced) than the spare and earthy Ray LaMontagne they first fell in love with. Personally, I was less bothered by the change in musical direction than others. Yes, it’s not the same Ray LaMontagne from Trouble or God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise, but taken on their own terms, shed of any preconceptions of what a Ray LaMontagne album should sound like, the 10 songs on Supernova are very good.
LaMontagne brought his Summer Supernova tour to Boston’s open-air Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on a cool Saturday night, headlining a well-matched triple bill that included opening sets by The Belle Brigade – who are also backing Ray on this tour – and Southern alt-country rocker Jason Isbell. After opening with “Gossip in the Grain,” LaMontagne then used much of the first half of the show to unveil the new songs. Wary fans should know that, live, the Supernova tracks sound very much like the Ray they know and love. On stage, stripped of studio polish, LaMontagne’s soulful voice cut through the night on new songs like “Lavender,” “She’s The One,” the Van Morrison-esque “Airwaves” and the album’s title track with all the power and raw, backcountry energy that attracted so many fans to the singer in the first place.
Midway through the set, LaMontagne segued back to some older tracks, generating the predictable big cheers for “Beg Steal or Borrow,” “Jolene” and, of course, “Trouble.” What was striking, though, was how strong the thread is between the new and old songs when heard live. When he slips a Supernova tune like “Smashing” between “Beg Steal or Borrow” and “Jolene,” they sound as if they could all have come from the same album.
No longer playing from the shadows as in past concerts, LaMontagne stood center stage throughout the show, while behind him a floor-to-ceiling digital backdrop displayed an ever-changing, swirling mix of geometric designs and psychedelic flowers. Along with The Belle Brigade’s Barbara Gruska on drums and Ethan Gruska on guitar and keyboards, LaMontagne’s superb touring band also includes Dave Depper on guitar and keys, and Zack Hickman, longtime sideman for Josh Ritter, on stand-up and electric bass.
The Boston show, the second of two nights in the city, was just the fifth so far on a three-month summer tour that will see LaMontagne play upwards of 40 dates. He has been noodling with the set list, but has generally hit all 10 tracks from Supernova during each show, and about an equal number of older tunes. He closed out the Boston set with “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise,” before returning for a three-song encore that included “Hey Me Hey Mama,” “Old Before Your Time” and Supernova’s closing track, “Drive-in Movies,” a song about growing older and having kids that carries a whiff of autobiography about it.