Live review: Ray LaMontagne @ Red Rocks AmphitheatreBy Elana Ashanti Jefferson | June 21st, 2011 | 2 comments
Many a lover of Colorado summers thinks of Red Rocks as a place to kick off their shoes, let down their hair and whoop it up. And while the good-time tailgating vibe characterized the early evening hours at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Friday, with Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs headlining, the concert party animals were decidedly more subdued than usual.
Performing on the weekend of his 38th birthday, LaMontagne played to a sold-out crowd flush with loyal fans. These were people who seemed content to just sit and listen to the radio-friendly
folk rock artist — a notoriously shy guy who spent the bulk of the show just left of center-stage and highlighted only by moody, muted spotlights.
The headliner walked onto a dark stage just after 9 p.m. He opened with the somber anti-love song, “Burn,” and then unfurled a series of hits that LaMontagne must realize people expect to hear. The players took their time with “For the Summer,” and reveled in an impromptu sing-along during “Beg Steal or Borrow.”
But just after the old-fashioned country and western-sounding “Hold You In My Arms,” LaMontagne let his guard down slightly to quietly address the crowd — “It’s nice to see you…” He donned a jaunty feathered hat then, which was especially well-suited to “Devil’s in the Jukebox” and later, “Jolene.”
Although some fans prefer LaMontagne’s solo shows, on this night the New England-native seemed keen to highlight his collaborators. Pariah Dog Greg Leisz’s fiery pedal steel guitar and back-up vocals by the Secret Sisters, a country-folk duo from Alabama that LaMontage said he took a shine to after meeting them on tour last year with Levon Helm, lent a nostalgic note to “Mama Tried,” a song by one of the headliner’s heroes, Merle Haggard. Also joining LaMontagne on stage were Jay Bellerose on drums, Jennifer Condos on bass and Eric Heywood on guitar. This was also the moment in the show when, during a brassy harmonica solo, LaMontagne dished up a retort of sorts for critics who condemn his sound as lacking soul.
Regardless of whether it’s honest or fanciful, LaMontagne was every bit the sympathetic character that fans adore during “New York City’s Killing Me,” a song in which he was only accompanied by his own guitar. And the artist gave those same sentimental followers a late-show gift with a very-true-to-the-recorded-version of “Trouble.” This lived-in song illustrates that even among the high-pitched fame of the last several years, LaMontagne knows that his bread is buttered with earnest, soul-searching narratives.
Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an editor at The Denver Post and a longtime music fan.
Evan Semón is a Denver freelance writer and photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work.