Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ray LaMontagne's "Supernova" Tour Stops By The Oakdale Theatre

It was three bands for the price of one this past Tuesday at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, as Ray LaMontagne brought his “Supernova Summer Tour” to the venue. First up was The Belle Brigade, who treated us to some ethereal alternative pop. Their music has a variety of influences, including 60s & 70s pop/rock, and a dash of 80s alternative. The group features Ethan Gruska on guitar, piano, vocals & Barbara Gruska on drums & vocals. The siblings are also part of Ray’s backing band for the tour. They only played a few songs, but their sweet harmonies & cool tunes got the night off to a good start. I recommend seeking out their recently released album, Just Because, as well as their self-titled 2011 debut disc; you'll hear hints of Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac & REM in their eclectic sound.

Soon after, the night’s second act, Jason Isbell, took the stage, and wowed the crowd with a dose of country rock, Southern style. The former member of the Drive By Truckers has been recording & touring with his current band, The 400 Unit, since 2009. Jason’s set, mostly culled from his last two releases, 2013’s Southeastern & 2011’s Here We Rest, ranged from the driving guitars of songs like “Super 8” to more reflective numbers like the powerful, moving “Elephant.” I was somewhat familiar with Mr. Isbell’s work before the show, but I must she won me over with his excellent guitar work & vocals. The 400 Unit provided solid support, and had excellent interplay with Jason. Judging from the crowd’s reaction, by the time his set was over, he had gained himself a whole new group of fans. If you’re a Southern rock or country fan, check out Jason’s music; you won’t be disappointed.

Ray LaMontagne (on right): Photo by John V
Then it was time for the main event. Ray LaMontgane entered, and kicked off his portion of the night with the title track of 2008’s Gossip in The Grain. After that, it was a generous helping of songs from his new disc, Supernova, including the psychedelic “Lavender,” the bluesy “She’s The One,” and the pop-oriented title track. One of the show’s highlights was a brief acoustic set in the middle of the evening with Ray & bassist Zachariah Hickman doing excellent versions of a couple of the “old songs” as Ray called them: “Jolene,” and “Trouble,” followed by a beautifully played rendition of “Like Rock & Roll Radio,” from 2010’s God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise. The rest of the night’s selections bounced between the jangly country pop of the Supernova track “Ojai,” (one of my favorites on the new disc) to an excellent version of “Beg, Steal Or Borrow,” another song from God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise, and back to some more psychedelia with "Julia," another cut from the new album.

The notoriously crowd shy LaMontagne did take time to thank the fans at several points during the show, and spoke briefly to the crowd during the acoustic set as well. But as always with Ray, his often intense live shows are all about the music, and he didn’t disappoint during this fine performance. He clearly loves playing with this band, and their accompaniment was tight & focused when it needed to be, and looser & more jam oriented when the occasion warranted, as it did on one of the more rocking songs of the evening, “Meg White.” The concert ended with the one-two punch encore of “Hey Me, Hey Mama” and a fantastic version of Supernova’s closing track, “Drive-In Movies.” It's my second time seeing Ray live (the first was back in 2009) and I thought the show was excellent all around, though it would have been nice to hear a couple more of those "old songs."

It was a great night of music, from three different but very entertaining bands. If you get a chance to see Ray’s show on the road this summer, I'd check it out for sure. Here are links to The Belle Brigade’s “When Everything Was What it Was,”, Jason Isbell’s “Alabama Pines,”, and Ray LaMontagne’s “Supernova,”

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