Live Review: Ray LaMontagne at Macky Auditorium

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Ray LaMontagne Macky Auditorium Monday, October 27, 2008

Better than: than the last time I saw him. A lot better.

Nearly four years ago I saw Ray LaMontagne for the first time at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. His impressive debut, Trouble, had been gaining a lot of traction and within a year he started selling out bigger venues. Four years and two more albums later, the singer-songwriter sold out CU-Boulder’s 2000-seat Macky Auditorium and he’s sounding better than ever.

LaMontagne and company kicked off their set with “You Are the Best Thing,” the single from his brand new album, Gossip in the Grain. Ethan Johns, who produced and collaborated on all three of LaMontagne’s albums, laid down a Memphis soul backbeat while LaMontagne channeled Otis Redding, which he also did on the second tune, “Hold You in My Arms.”

While LaMontagne had string players at the 2005 show, last night guitarist Eric Heywood, who’s played with Joe Henry, Son Volt and Alejandro Escovedo, reproduced the string parts of “Hold You in My Arms,” “Empty” and “Shelter” on pedal steel and the some of the horn parts of “You Can Bring Me Flowers” on his Telecaster. The guitarist also added a bit of country twang to some of the tracks as well as laying down some fine textural pedal steel work on the stirring “I Still Care For You,” which also featured opener Leona Naess on backing vocals.

After running through a bouncy take on LaMontagne’s ode to White Stripes drummer Meg White, the band left the stage and the singer was left alone in a dimmed spotlight on the far right side of the stage where he stood the entire show. It was remarkable how LaMontagne’s charcoal-tinged voice filled up the room when he sang the two back-to-back solo songs “Burn” and “Winter Birds.”

The band then came back out for some great takes on “You Can Bring Me Flowers,” “Shelter” and closing with “Trouble.” For the encore, the band came out for a rousing version of “Three Days” before LaMontagne and bassist Jennifer Condos did an outstanding duet on “Jolene.” Naess then joined the two and keyboardist Chris Joyner on “Gossip in the Grain,” which was a somewhat haunting way to close out the night. --Jon Solomon

Critic’s Notebook Personal bias: Macky’s amazing acoustics were ideal for the singer, especially on the solo songs. Random notes: A few songs into the set, LaMontagne had a short conversation with a gal who was celebrating her 26th birthday. He mentioned that he was 26 not so long ago and was getting stoned when he was her age. By the way: LaMontagne’s known for being a bit shy, which could have been why he was positioned at the far right of the stage while the rest of a the band was set up in the a semi-circle.

Set List:

You Are the Best Thing Hold You in My Arms Let it Be Me I Still Care For You (w/ Leona Naess) Empty Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame) Narrow Escape Meg White Burn Winter Birds Hey Me, Hey Mama You Can Bring Me Flowers Shelter Trouble

Encore Three More Days Jolene Gossip in the Grain (w/ Leona Naess)

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