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Ray LaMontagne @ SEC Armadillo

14 May 2018

Ray LaMontagne’s taciturn demeanour shatters when performing as he summons every ounce of fervour from the fibres of his being

Published in The Skinny

In these digital times of sharing and baring all, a musician’s relationship with mystery seems ever fraying. So let praise flood to the likes of Ray LaMontagne who seldom surrenders for interviews, and on stage speaks so little but says so much.

Perched behind an electric set of keys on a sliver of stage in front of the goliath curtain at the Armadillo, Londoner Freya Ridings commences the evening and immediately sends ripples of goosebumps through the room with Ultraviolet. Her voice digs deep and projects high, arresting with its immensely emotional resonance. Separated from the midnight darkness by a lone spotlight, it's easy to forget there are others present as she reveals her soul, an illusion of a private confession broken by rapturous applause.

When her piano’s pedal goes on the fritz, her aplomb arrives swift. Losing the luxury of completing the set in her desired way, she performs a series of close-to-a capella numbers, including a chilling rendition of Everytime We Say Goodbye – a tune her mother used to sing to her as a child. Maintaining composure during a saga of this ilk before hundreds of eyes, as a relative newcomer, is testament to Ridings' innate showmanship.

What follows is a bare bones set with nothing but the essential facets necessary to make the night gleam. Under the shadow of his hat’s brim, Ray LaMontagne ambles to his steel string and launches straight into No Other Way followed by Beg Steal or Borrow. It's only now that he acknowledges those of us out in the dark.

His sole accompaniment on bass tonight is Wilco’s John Stirratt, who provides quiet rhythms and gentle harmonies – no better is his presence felt than on Airwaves. Additional members never feel amiss, as the gents present themselves with a refreshing vulnerability for artists so far on in their careers.

Silence prevails during interludes, LaMontagne instead letting his music do the graft. His animated physicality exhibits how far he goes to summon the fervour that exists inherent within his fibre. From the mature offerings of Trouble to the fresh faces like Such a Simple Thing (from new record Part of the Light), he demonstrates his outstanding vocal ability to fluctuate between coarse gravel and fallen angel.

Intrigue is afoot to see if, and how, he'll include material from Ouroboros due to its spacey and psychedelic slant. In My Own Way gives ample evidence that it has been carefully considered. Its twinkling, nuanced instrumentation is replaced by the harmonica, switching our perspective of the cosmos: instead of floating through it, we're sat around a campfire looking up at it.

Being in possession of such an extensive and varied back catalogue makes curating a setlist tricky. His decision to perform acoustically almost narrows down the choices for him. Obviously, he'll be unable to wholly satisfy the entire audience on account of his stylistic changes between albums – persistent requests for Jolene throughout do nothing to break his taciturn demeanour. Overall, tonight's a measured showcase of LaMontagne's diverse career handled with a raw sensibility. The revered folk-psych-country-rocker is no one trick pony, his rugged spirit shows no sign of waning as it continues to roam free like a wild horse.



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