Live review: Ray LaMontagne at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion

Shy Supernova


Colorful, digital paint swirled on the stage backdrop, evoking flowers and jellyfish to match the psychedelic hues of Ray LaMontagne’s latest album, Supernova. But when LaMontagne opened the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion’s season on Friday, his first of two nights at the harborside tent, he largely remained the earthy, rural New England troubadour who found overnight success with his 2004 debut Trouble.

“It’s crazy – it’s been a decade,” the usually taciturn LaMontagne said, thanking fans for changing his life during a mid-set acoustic duet with bassist Zack Hickman. The packed crowd’s applause had swelled as he sang “Jolene” and the title track from that debut, and one could see the denim-clad singer’s breath in the cool, shower-cleared air as he soulfully barked the latter’s refrain, “I’ve been saaaved, by a woman!”

His poppy leap to singing “I want you to be my girl” in the title track of Supernova capped a show-opening stretch dominated by restacked tunes from that album. Yet the paisley haze of the record, which was produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, proved more muted in Friday’s mix, even if songs took on a robust life of their own in the hands of LaMontagne’s four-piece touring backup.  Drummer Barbara Gruska, who joined her brother Ethan (one of two guitarist/keyboards) in double duty after opening the night with the Belle Brigade, drove the thumping accents of “She’s the One” — not the Springsteen song, though LaMontagne resembled a young Bruce in his wool cap and beard. “Julia” also rode a romping riff that evoked “Gloria,” the garage-rock classic by LaMontagne influence Van Morrison’s old band Them.

The camera-shy bandleader ceded much of the spotlight to his curly-mustachioed musical director Hickman, a local fixture associated with Josh Ritter who switched between acoustic and electric bass. He and LaMontagne took turns injecting the percussive, breathy vocal parts that marked new songs like “Airwaves.” But the audience seemed more enthusiastic across a home stretch of the near-two-hour show that featured older material, peaking with “Hey Me, Hey Mama.”

Like Jason Isbell and his alt-country band the 400 Unit, which rocked with sobering authority in the night’s middle set, LaMontagne went about his business, seemingly ignoring the colorful trappings of performance and popularity. With his outfit and attitude, he could have easily stepped off a fishing boat to sing his songs.

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