He may have broken onto the music scene with 2004 debut album Trouble, but Ray Lamontagne — the notoriously reticent singer who plaintively sang in “Jolene,” “still don’t know what love means” — is singing a different tune these days. On Saturday at the Fillmore Miami Beach, it sounded more like the title and hoarse, rousing chorus of the song “She’s the One,” or the bombshell title track of Lamontagne’s 2014 album Supernova – the artist visibly bristling with the song’s energy.
“Zoe, you’re so Supernova! Super!”
A felt hat perched atop his head and a guitar shielding his lean frame, the 41-year-old animates a universe all his own – speckled with sunlight, populated with Rusty James’ and Betty Sues, juxtaposed against fields of clover and vibrant swirling rainbow cosmos. Equal parts his latest album, the nearly-jubilant Supernova, and the signature melancholia of his earlier efforts, the psychedelic set snaked its way back into his discography as the night went on.
In the Old Hollywood glamour of the Fillmore, dimmed crystal chandeliers above and crushed red velvet below ones legs, Lamontagne’s raw whispers threading through the audience, it was possible to drift away into the echo of long-lost games of hide and seek (“Lavender”) or dreaming up starlight by the barrow (“There’s No Other Way”), the outside world like a distant memory.
But, even in a city that wears heels to the grocery store, the bluesy, folky crooning of a musician who is musically and geographically partial to the rural were right at home. From the dreamcatcher-like backdrop behind him imbued with swirling colors and shapes, to Lamontagne’s powerful voice and the transporting nature of the songs themselves, the show channeled the otherworldly. Chords of longing, waiting and hoping resonated beneath the glamour and sand of Miami and through the cavernous hall, the garish colors of the backdrop flickering on enraptured faces. When he sang, “I’ll be the one who stays,” a fluorescent rose flickering and flashing behind him, there was a temptation to take him literally.
Still, it wouldn’t be Lamontagne without a dusting of heartbreak. But even that, like the dark “Pick Up a Gun” – “I love you, you don’t love me” – shied away from utter hopelessness. There was spiritual weariness (“Ojai”) and the echoes of heartbreak (“Smashing”). Yet these dark spots only elevated songs like “Julia,” with the gentle caress of lyrics like, “Julia, she’s no ordinary color, not quite blue in hue, nor grey, but something other.” Indeed, perhaps it is his signature trouble that enables Lamontagne to sing about love like no other artist — all little details, light and shadow. Paired off their trippy background effects and accompaniment, the songs would have been enough.
Supernova is hardly an about-face for Lamontagne, whose earthy rhythm has, since 2004, wriggled tentatively into the mainstream, his songs on the soundtracks of several popular television shows and movies. Most recently “Without Words” — which he performed Saturday — appeared in the blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars. Lamontagne has long sung the blues, and he continued to do so Saturday, with lullabies like the folk-fable rock opener “Gossip in the Grain.” “Trouble” still dogs his soul. But even as he sang his old hit “Jolene,” the words “a man needs something he can hang on to” felt more nuanced, the name uttered like a call to a higher power, the background black and Lamontagne glowing against it.
The echoey harmonies of the song – “A picture of you, holding a picture of me in the back of my blue jeans” – did not seem like a lyric this flashy town could embrace — and yet the song was punctured by appreciative yells and concluded with a rousing, audience- wide cheer.
(“This is not One Direction, Jesus Christ,” muttered the woman behind me.)
Even “Trouble” was downright spirited– the whole audience joining in on “I’ve been saved by a woman,” and many getting up to dance during the liveliest parts. At points, the responsiveness of the crowd seemed too much for even Montagne, who requested, “Stop busting my balls, will you?”
The most overtly autobiographical of his songs and the track that epitomizes the lyricist’s characteristic style of yearning, “Drive-In Movies” concluded the set.
“Now I’m grown, kids of my own,” Lamontagne sang, as if to explain his past and his present. “Now I know all the things that I didn’t know.”