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October 16, 2009

Concert review: Ray LaMontagne with the BSO at Strathmore

ray lamontagne

There's so much space and sweep in singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne's music, it's a wonder he doesn't perform with orchestras more often.

Last night, when LaMontagne played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore, it was only the second time he's had an orchestra behind him (the first was earlier this year at the Hollywood Bowl). Tonight, LaMontagne and the BSO will perform at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Aside from a few miscues, it was a fluid showcase of LaMontagne's compelling body of work.

If you've heard LaMontagne's breathy, sandpapery voice, chances are, you either love it or hate it. Whether whispered or howled, LaMontagne's voice seemed to hang in the air last night in the gorgeous Strathmore hall.

Arranger and conductor David Campbell (whom you may recognize as the father of Beck) led the BSO through a few classical pieces, including John Adams' "Shaker Loops" and "The Unanswered Question" by Charles Ives, before LaMontagne took the stage. The works were adventurous and accessible without being patronizing; it was clear Campbell knew his audience.

After a brief break, LaMontagne, looking ever the mountain man with his beard, dark hair white button-down and vest, emerged with a three-piece band (drums, bass and guitar).

The 80-minute performance was a tour through LaMontagne's three albums, touching on hits and album cuts alike ...

The only notably absent song was "Three More Days," the single from his sophomore album "Till the Sun Turns Black."

A reclusive, enigmatic artist, LaMontagne usually has little interaction with the audience, and last night was no exception. He rarely spoke to the crowd, except a few soft "thank yous" and a brief appreciation for the BSO. Of course, that didn't keep concertgoers from yelling appreciations such as "We love you Ray!" between songs.

The BSO's lush strings gave many of LaMontagne's songs extra breadth and depth. The brass section sounded rigid on "Hey Me, Hey Mama," a song that's built on New Orleans swing. But overall, the BSO meshed well with LaMontagne's music. The BSO tacked an instrumental outtro onto "Till The Sun Turns Black," which flowed smoothly into "Gossip int he Grain."

LaMontagne's own band was incredibly tasteful. Drummer/percussionist Jay Bellerose handled LaMontagne's material with considerable finesse, and the other players eschewed solos in favor of warm fills.

LaMontagne closed out the show with "Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)," an upbeat bluesy piece which saw LaMontagne hissing and hollering into the mike and sawing on a harmonica. The song showed just how versatile LaMontagne's voice can be -- he led an orchestra through a night of songs that swooned and stomped, rarely missing a beat.

Set list:

Be Here Now
Hold You In My Arms
Let It Be Me
Winter Birds
Hey Me, Hey Mama
You Can Bring Me Flowers
Till the Sun Turns Black
Gossip in the Grain


You Are the Best Thing
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)

(Handout photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:07 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Concert reviews


hey is Fletchers closing? (at least there's one comment on this thread!)

I'm headed to the show tonight...totally bummed about no Three More Days but the rest looks great!
Thanks for the report!

Anyone know if he's going to cover "Hallelujah?"

I hear LaMontagne is going to do a show in Brooklyn of Townes Van Sant covers introduced by Ira Glass...

My brain gets him confused with Yves Montand. Stupid brain.

I first saw RLM in this video wth Damien Rice and was blown away. I thought who is this guy who can hold his own with Damien Rice?

i can't wait to see him tonight! i only wish that he would perform "within you"!!

I have to disagree on one point. I was at the concert last night and was disappointed in how well the orchestra was integrated into his songs. I don't feel his band ceded enough territory to the orchestra. Eschewing solos is not enough. I would have preferred a much more acoustic performance. That's what you pay to see when you tolerate the staid Strathmore to see a soulful crooner like Ray LaMontagne.

All I can say,
About the performance,
I saw that day.
It was simply marvelous.
I wish you may,
have a real chance,
to watch and you’ll reply,
That it’s just fabulous.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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