REVIEW: Ray LaMontagne opts for electricity at AMP show with Neko Case

Photo courtesy of the Walmart AMP

If you watch a lot of early psychedelic rock videos on YouTube (because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) you’ll notice trends. Funny pants, long hair, shirts splayed open to show off chest hair, etc. There are recurring production elements, too. These videos, many of them made in the mid to late 1960s, weren’t created with modern capabilities and many share the same basic aesthetic. The band members just stand around, jamming, and washes of bright color patterns swirl around them as a superimposed sheen.

What if I told you this aesthetic is the current reality for former coffee shop folkster/heartbreaker Ray LaMontagne? What if I told you LaMontagne and his band spent 90 minutes ripping through bluesy, soulful, psychedelic rock (with hints of folk, but only hints) during their show on Tuesday night at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion?

The signs for this switchover have been coming for some time. LaMontagne busted onto the scene in 2004 with a wistful folk album called “Trouble” that provided some of his best-known songs. He followed that up with a still kind-of-folky album. But those days seem gone. His 2016 album, “Ouroboros,” as one example, was produced by psychedelic rocker Jim James, who leads the band My Morning Jacket. When LaMontagne toured behind that album, he brought the rest of My Morning Jacket out as his touring band.

That timeline takes us to last night’s show at the AMP in support of his 2018 album “Part of the Light.” My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel is with him again for this tour, joined by three other rock and rollers. There’s a bit of a disconnect between the man we see onstage and the music coming from him and his band. LaMontagne still looks like a folk singer. He wore sturdy pants and work boots and a wide-brimmed hat. You would have expected him to be strumming away at a coffee shop open mic. Instead, he has fully embraced a different identity, spending at least half his time on electric guitar, including a few solo breakouts. The stage production for the “Part of the Light” tour is sparse, but features several large screens behind him, all of which showed patterns of bright colors. The patterns were also used as an overlay for the large video boards that flank either side of the AMP stage.

Photo courtesy of the Walmart AMP

This discussion of his live show metamorphosis should not be taken as a complaint, even if I pledge my love for his first two albums above any of his newer work.

I thought LaMontagne and his band were in fine form for a warm summer night in a big venue, which they filled to about 75 percent of its capacity. But this change in dynamics is worth noting, depending on when you might have first heard his music. He’s doing what he wants, to the point where calls from fans yelling for him to play early songs such as “Jolene” and “Shelter” went unanswered. LaMontagne has seven studio albums to his credit, but he didn’t play a song from any of the first four. That’s remarkable, and if that’s all you wanted, you probably left disappointed. I would have loved an acknowledgment of his earlier work, even if it came in the form of an electrified, raucous version more aligned with his current sonic vision. I’m certain his band could have pulled it off. But that wasn’t to be, and LaMontagne played what he wanted.

Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion

What: The All-American Roadshow featuring Chris Stapleton and guests Marty Stuart and Brent Cobb
When: 7 p.m. June 22
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Remaining seats start at $79.95
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or visit for information.

It’s a big part of why Neko Case – billed here as a ‘very special guest’ – is a great fit as the opening act for this tour. There seems to be quite the disconnect on the surface. LaMontagne is notoriously quiet. He rarely does interviews, and he only offered a few pleasantries as his interaction with the crowd. Just a “hello,” “thank you” and “goodbye,” really. Neko Case is notoriously not quiet. She’s got a bold, brash new album, and she told an absolutely filthy joke while onstage Tuesday night.

But the same musical independence roars through both performers, as does the same folk/country sensibilities that get cranked up with rock attitude.

Case similarly played what she wanted Tuesday night as well, focusing on her excellent new album “Hell-On,” although she did at least throw in one older song of appeasement, the burner “This Tornado Loves You.” She’s good, and I expect her new album to end up high on a lot of best-of lists in December. The
jury is still out on LaMontagne’s new record, which was also released within the last few weeks.

Just in case anyone waited out for a familiar, slow acoustic piece to end his set, LaMontagne instead closed with the song “The Changing Man” as his band ripped through their parts behind him. The lyrics yell out a coda to the evening, and a status report for his career.

“I’m a changing man,” LaMontagne repeats.

Yes, he is indeed.