When it was announced this past spring that Ray LaMontagne would be returning to Columbus in June, I was excited. Having seen him perform live twice before, I knew in purchasing a ticket I was buying a guaranteed good time. What I wasn’t so sure of was the slated venue: Columbus Commons.
Having only ever visited the Commons during sunny afternoons with no event taking place, I had trouble envisioning how a low-key performer like LaMontagne could fill the vast, open space in the middle of downtown.
I am happy to report that the Commons and LaMontagne were a perfectly matched duo that resulted in one of the best concerts I have seen in some time.
As the concert started, I felt thankful for the beautiful weather we were given. And being nestled between the buildings of downtown Columbus provided an intimacy that was unexpected.
LaMontagne began his two-hour-plus set by performing for a solid 40 minutes with nothing but his acoustic guitar and violet lights in the background.
There was something refreshing and comforting about seeing a performer command such a large crowd in such a large space with nothing more than simple lighting and a guitar. While fancy light shows and decorated stages can enhance a concert, it was nice to see a musician who relied only on their instrument and material to entertain the crowd.
Playing fan favorites like, “New York City’s Killing Me,” “Like Rock & Roll and Radio” and “Old Before Your Time,” LaMontagne effortlessly transitioned between songs, keeping the night’s mellow vibe intact and maintaining the intimacy he had created.
LaMontagne gave those in attendance a bonus by playing “Empty,” a cut from his 2006 album “Till The Sun Turns Black,” which is usually not included in his live performances.
Those in attendance certainly seemed satisfied throughout his acoustic set, but it wasn’t until LaMontagne launched into arguably his most famous song, “Trouble,” that the crowd around me started to perk up as the familiar strumming of the song’s opening chords filled the Commons.
For the hour-and-a-half that remained, LaMontagne brought out members of My Morning Jacket to serve as his backing band. Referring to them only as “The Jacket Boys,” the accompaniment made sense considering My Morning Jacket singer Jim James produced LaMontagne’s latest release “Ouroboros.”
Peppering the electric set with familiar songs from previous releases, LaMontagne largely dedicated the second half to songs from “Ouroboros.”
Beginning with “Part One – Homecoming,” the first song from the album, LaMontagne and The Jacket Boys brought added energy to the night.
Leaving behind the soulful acoustic first hour, LaMontagne and gang spent the next hour ripping through psychedelic cuts “Part One – Hey, No Pressure,” “Part One – The Changing Man” and “Part One – While It Still Beats,” reminding everyone that he is capable of more than the folky Americana that he is known for.
Each of the songs provided breezy, dream-like guitar solos reminiscent of the best ‘70s rock that once was. The sound was completely transcendent and perfectly complementing the summer breeze that rolled through the Commons.
Bringing it full-circle, LaMontagne chose “Ojai” and “All the Wild Horses” as the encore for his outstanding outdoor set. Leaving the crowd on a high with his masterfully executed tunes reminiscent of ’70s AM radio gold.
Ray LaMontagne more than proved he could command such an impressive space with nothing more than his voice and an acoustic guitar. Adding a backing band for the second half of the show was nice but not necessary. I think LaMontagne was doing just fine on his own.