LIVE: Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs @ SPAC, 6/3/11

Ray LaMontagne
Ray LaMontagne

What a difference five years makes…

Back in 2006, Guster was a star attraction at SPAC, and they brought along Ray LaMontagne as their opening act.

But when Guster returned to town just last month, they weren’t playing the amphitheater, or even a mid-sized theater, but rather a club show at Northern Lights. On the other hand, LaMontagne’s star has continued to rise, propelling him to headlining status at SPAC, where he kicked off the Spa City’s summer concert season earlier this month.

The bearded backwoods Bohemian opened and closed his show with solo numbers – “Rock & Roll and Radio” at the start; “All the Wild Horses” as the final encore – but for the remainder of his 100-minute performance, LaMontagne’s sublimely soulful, sandpapered voice – equal parts honey and moonshine – was matched by the magnificently tasteful musicianship of his band the Pariah Dogs, featuring guitar greats Greg Leisz and Eric Heywood, bassist Jennifer Condos and eccentric but in-the-pocket drummer Jay Bellerose.

He offered a romantic but dark vision with his heartfelt, acoustic soul sound, and the lack on onstage lighting – as well as the hat pulled down low to obscure his face – only enhanced the moody mystery of his music. At times, he wore his influences a bit too proudly, especially on the Joni Mitchell-like “Beg, Steal or Borrow” and the Dylanesque “Old Before Your Time,” but with gems like “For the Summer” and his best-known tune “Trouble,” he carved out his own sound.

Occasionally, he kicked up the tempo with the clattering blues-rock of “Repo Man” and hell-bound stomper “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame).” He introduced the latter with a rare bit of conversation with the crowd, noting, “Most of my songs are all bullshit, but this one is true.” And his country roots came shining through bright and clear with a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” ably abetted by the sweet, sweet voices of opening act, the Secret Sisters.

Laura and Lydia Rogers – aka the Secret Sisters – turned in a captivating 23-minute opening set with just their two voices and a single acoustic guitar, which they passed back and forth to each other. They eased through a number of crisp, clean country classics from the likes of George Jones, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, although their original “Tennessee Me” highlighted their sparkling sibling harmonies just as well.

In between, Brandi Carlile also tapped into the Patsy Cline catalog for a smoky, solo rendition of “Crazy,” but she was at her best when her band – led by twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitar and bass respectively – whipped their way through the opening “Again Today,” “Dreams” and the full-throated wail of “The Story.” Carlile has an expressive break in her voice that she employed to great effect throughout her 45-minute set. She completely lost me, however, when she moved over to the piano for a closing stab at Alphaville’s ’80s pop hit “Forever Young” with cellist Josh Neumann.

Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Kristin Travagline’s review at The Saratogian
Taylor Morris’ review at Metroland
My other review at The Times Union
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Ray LaMontagne writes good old-fashioned soul music – Van Morrison soul – sings with a raw, bluesy tone, and attracts more women than men to his music, as he did Friday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. With Brandi Carlisle preceding him, the night raised pop music to its classic, respectful stature of yesteryear. LaMontagne might have met this same level of success at any time during the last 40 years. His cool beard, raspy voice, denim look and coy silence on stage could work at any point on the pop-culture time line. It’s good we get him now, because his old-timey earthy approach helps sustain American-roots music.”

Rock & Roll and Radio (solo)
Hold You in My Arms
For the Summer
Beg, Steal or Borrow
Repo Man
Mama Tried (with the Secret Sisters) (Merle Haggard)
The Devil’s in the Jukebox
Are We Really Through
New York City’s Killing Me
God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise
Old Before Your Time
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame)
Let It Be Me
All the Wild Horses (solo)

Again Today
What Can I Say
Throw It All Away
Crazy (Patsy Cline)
The Story
That Wasn’t Me
Forever Young (Alphaville)

The One I Love Is Gone
Why Baby Why (George Jones)
Leavin’ On Your Mind (Patsy Cline)
Your Cheatin’ Heart (Hank Williams)
Tennessee Me
River Jordan
In the Sweet By and By

Secret Sister
Secret Sister
Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile

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