Ray LaMontagne was midway through his 105-minute set at a sold out Radio City Music Hall in New York City Saturday night when someone yelled out, "Hey Ray, how ya feelin'?" LaMontagne, who is working to overcome intense shyness among crowds, addressed the question. "How am I feeling?" he said. "Are you kidding me? It's amazing. Just amazing to be with you." Then there was a pregnant pause before he laughed to himself just loud enough that everyone could hear. "I love you. That's all. I love you, I love you."
Under the hall's radiating purple lights, the scruffy singer-songwriter introduced a trio of horns to join his band, bassist Jennifer Condos, Eric Heywood on slide-guitar, keyboardist Chris Joyner, and drummer Ethan Johns. The group then broke into what has been referred to as "front porch country," with "Hey Me, Hey Mama," a song off his new album, Gossip In The Grain.
If LaMontagne's first two albums (2004's Trouble and 2006's Till The Sun Turns Black) are emotionally deep and dark, his new upbeat, country-fried material is revealing a newfound positive side. With smoky-deep rasps and often spine-chilling vocals, he more than held his own as he performed an array of new and old material, including "Empty," "Burn," "You Can Bring Me Flowers," and "Trouble."
After the first of two encores, he covered Rod Stewart's "Stay With Me" -- then played "Shelter," followed by a crowd-stirring version of "Three More Days." LaMontagne then played "Jolene" and a solo version of "All The Wild Horses." He ended the evening with the title track of the new album, helped by Leona Naess, who appears on his new album and opened up the night's festivities. "I have to catch my breath," he said of the marathon set.
The standing ovation LaMontagne got -- well, that's something he's used to. But laughter, both by LaMontagne and the audience -- that was something new. His fresh style showcased both on his new album and in the performance Saturday, illustrated a near flawless transition from a front porch in Maine to the front of the most prestigious stage in the world.