A tasteful but occasionally tedious folk singer transformed himself into a dynamic psychedelic rocker at Starlight Theatre on Tuesday. Ray LaMontagne revealed an engaging new aspect of his musical persona as he focused on material from "Supernova," his fifth studio album.
The troubadour from New Hampshire made a big impact in 2004 when "Trouble," a soulful song from his debut album, was embraced by fans of gentle rock and delicate folk. While he didn't entirely neglect the style that made him famous on Tuesday, LaMontagne and a four-piece band performed nine of ten selections from the surprisingly boisterous "Supernova."
LaMontagne opened his one-hour-and-45-minute outing with the hushed "Gossip in the Grain," a song from 2008 that resembled a lullaby carefully sung to a colicky baby on the verge of sleep. The serene spell was immediately broken.
Six of the next seven selections were forceful "Supernova" compositions. The stately psychedelia of "Lavender," the slow drift of "Pick Up a Gun" and the wispy daydream of "Airwaves" were dazzling. The DayGlo pop of "Supernova"'s title track could have been mistaken for a cover of a hit by the Monkees or the Association.
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When LaMontagne finally returned to more familiar terrain with the country-inflected 2010 song "Beg, Steal or Borrow," the relieved response of some members of the audience of about 3,000 resembled a Bronx cheer.
Further respite for folk traditionalists soon came in the form of three selections LaMontagne performed as duets with bassist Zachariah Hickman. Renditions of "Jolene," "Trouble" and "Like Rock & Roll and Radio" showcased LaMontagne's distinctive voice. His singing suggests Van Morrison channeling Ray Charles. A few of the new songs obscured the wonderful instrument, but the strength of the material and the variety it supplied more than compensated for the loss.
LaMontagne's versatile band also contributed to his newfound liveliness. Two of his accompanists- Barbara and Ethan Gruska- opened the concert under the moniker the Belle Brigade. The sibling's wondrous harmonies and uplifting songs bear an uncanny resemblance to the work of the Indigo Girls. A pleasing set by Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen featured material from his new solo album.
The evening concluded with "Drive-In Movies," a song in which LaMontagne sings "I wanna be Brando in ‘The Wild One'." On Tuesday, the newly energized LaMontagne exuded plenty of riveting star power.