What better to accompany the broken-down musings of a well-traveled singer than an array of windows casting a sunset on the stage behind him? Ray LaMontagne’s minimalistic surrounding on Friday night, complete with a series of worn doors and a coat rack holding a cowboy hat, almost carried the promise of a theatrical set change. But once opening song “New York City’s Killing Me” broke through the room, the performers had quietly informed audience members that the night was about telling stories organically and with the utmost vulnerability, choosing worn wood and frosted glass to showcase gentle scenery. The singer’s settings echoed his croons.
New England artist LaMontagne, adequately introduced as “one of the best singer-songwriters in the world” by WXRT 93, took to the Chicago Theatre stage on Nov. 30, 2012, to support the double-threat credibility the singer had earned thus far in his career, and roused a full house to their feet at the sound of his melting voice.
Fans were lucky to hear acoustic versions of Ray’s hits, from to the exceptional “Trouble,” full of soul and grit, to the adorably confessional “Meg White.” The only exception to this wonderful alternative was the mid-encore celebration “You Are The Best Thing,” which just wasn’t the same without a round of horns and lively backing chorus. The rest resounded emotionally and electrifyingly, especially “Sarah,” “Gossip in the Grain” and the humbling “I Still Care for You.” The set’s closer, “Rock & Roll and the Radio,” might not have sent everyone home on a high, but at least his finale was full of character and humility.
With an evening such as this at the Chicago Theatre, the setting called for the classic 30-something attitude where audience members felt their audible yells were a necessary component between songs.
The performer had set a respectfully somber stage, and this facade of intimacy became punctured when idiots would yell “I wanna lick your beard” as the singer took a sip of water.
LaMontagne doesn’t put on that kind of show, and there’s a chance Chicagoans made a bad impression on the singer when all the man had to say about our city was wonderful things. Songs with intensity to the degree of “Be Here Now” deserve silence surrounding them, not lousy jabber, as if the audience neglected to take him seriously. Perhaps a Dec. 2 followup performance and a signature hot dog on Saturday will be enough to salvage our city’s reputation for the singer.
A feature from celebrated Irish singer Lisa Hannigan allowed no time for “Shelter,” one of LaMontagne’s best, but the singer’s set still sounded very colorful and heavy-hearted. A European soul with a voice LaMontagne couldn’t even describe provided another layer of lonely company that a missing steel guitar would have normally filled. But the show remained more dynamic than the possibility of a full band, proving the power of a voice as a mechanism for conveying immeasurable emotion.
The vocals from the singer still transcend possibilities, carrying power in a direct connection between the heart and the microphone track by track in their own testament. When the vocals break to show discontent or loneliness, the feeling is like nothing else in the world. Such soul and spirit were released as signature soft scratch and weathered lungs, only enhanced by the overcoming a brief sickness that forced the cancellation of two dates immediately prior to the Nov. 30 performance. With ailment came a post-recovery rasp and personal gratitude in Chicago, a sound and effect that simply can’t be beat.
Ray LaMontagne at the Chicago Theatre setlist:
- “New York City’s Killing Me”
- “For the Summer”
- “Beg Steal or Borrow”
- “Old Before Your Time”
- “A Falling Through”
- “I Still Care for You”
- “Gone Away From Me”
- “Be Here Now”
- “One Lonesome Saddle”
- “Winter Birds”
- “Meg White”
- “Gossip in the Grain”
- “Repo Man”
- “O’ Sleep (Lisa Hannigan)”
- “You Are the Best Thing”
- “Like Rock & Roll and Radio”