I was disappointed when I arrived at 7:35 p.m., spent a few minutes in line getting a drink and went to find the seats only to realize the Belle Brigade was finishing up their set. It makes no sense for an opening band to play to such an empty house and it was unnecessary for such an early start. There was plenty of time in the evening's schedule for them to have begun at 8 p.m. as noted and still have room for both other artists' full sets. Hopefully the Belle Brigade will come back to St. Louis soon because their latest LP "Just Because" is a true gem of the year.
I didn't think I was familiar with second opener Hamilton Leithauser prior to the show. After, I discovered that he was/is the frontman for the Walkmen (who are on "extended hiatus") and now realize why his voice was so familiar. He has a stunning vocal range and in his higher register sounds a touch like Robert Plant. If he wanted to grow out his hair and sport far more denim and leather he could absolutely front a classic hard-rock band; he's got the pipes to wail and howl as needed. All jokes aside, there's no need for him to switch genres as his blend of indie rock tinged with an old-timey vibe borrowing from traditional country and even a bit of Sinatra-era crooning, is right on the money.
A few tinkling keyboard notes unfurled into "Gossip in the Grain" from the 2008 album of the same title to begin Ray LaMontagne's set. It was a gentle, soothing opening beautifully matched by a truly gorgeous stage backdrop. An art deco-inspired framework of a sun-like circle in the center with lines fanning outward was overlaid on top of a projection screen. As the band played, the screen burst into rose and violet-hued images of what looked like galaxies, star clusters transposed over mountains, fields and water. Through the evening, the screen changed with every song; filling with bursting flowers, faceted gems and linear patterns. I saw Lamontagne at the Pageant when touring for his first album and the lighting of that show made a lasting impression on me. Back then, LaMontagne was solo onstage, cast in brown hues that made the entire performance look like a sepia toned photo come to life. It was a spot-on fit for the feel of that album. The same can be said of last night's much more intricate lighting and visuals as a match for the new songs on the layered and dimensional "Supernova."
LaMontagne continued with the lead track on that new album "Lavender," its bassline reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." As with many songs on the album there is a glorious 1970's vibe with touches of '50s soul. The best example is the song "Ojai," which LaMontagne played later in the set. It's as if Bob Seger and Dan Fogelberg reached back in time to shake hands with Otis Redding.
The rest of the night was a glorious slice of LaMontagne's catalog, both old and new. For a trio of songs near the end, bassist Zachariah Hickman (who also plays with Josh Ritter) played upright bass to accompany LaMontagne for two pared down versions of songs off his debut album, the title track "Trouble" and "Jolene." Oh, what a song he crafted in "Jolene." It still punches me in the gut each time I hear it. Many of his songs have that impact and LaMontagne seems like a fellow who would give pretty solid life advice. I could base this solely on the next song he played, the mournful harmonica sliding into "Like Rock & Roll and Radio." Forget gut punches. He just ripped them out completely with that one.
However the sadder songs were few and far between and the set ended with much merriment. The night of the show happened to be LaMontagne's birthday and between songs the audience showed their love with a spontaneous singalong of "Happy Birthday" and later the band took the end of a song off course to play it again. Performing within the beauty of the Fox to an adoring crowd was a gift appreciated by the birthday fella and fans alike. Thanks for another beautiful memory, Ray.
Gossip in the Grain
She's the One
For the Summer
Pick Up a Gun
Beg Steal or Borrow
Like Rock & Roll Radio
God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise
Hey Me, Hey Mama