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PHOTOS: Ray LaMontagne & Jessica Lea Mayfield by Drew Bender

Ray LaMontagne:

Jessica Lea Mayfield:

Ray LaMontagne
Not so tortured after all.

Sunday night saw the return of Ray LaMontagne to Michigan, where he performed to a sold out house at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. Serving as a venue for both film and live performance, the Michigan Theater is a beautiful space with wonderful acoustics, and although there was ‘real’ security there, most interactions were handled by their volunteer ushers, giving a rather PBS impression for the performance providing a stark contrast to many clubs, arenas, and concert venues in southeast Michigan (the Ark being an exception for it’s similar public television pledge-drive vibe).

Opening for him was Jessica Lea Mayfield, a waifish singer-songwriter with black kohl-rimmed eyes and a penchant for angst-ridden lyrics. Playing a six string acoustic guitar, Mayfield was accompanied by a drummer and electric guitarist.
Her drummer, who might best be described as marionette-like in her pounding of the skins and guitarist whose effects- and feedback-laden sound both helped bring a dreamy quality to Mayfields songs. Jessica Lea’s guitarist physically resembled Kevin Dillon from HBO’s hit show Entourage, and somehow it was easy to pretend that this was yet another role for Johnny Drama. Many of her numbers bore strong resemblances to one another – certainly one way of establishing that sound as her own.
Reminiscent of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval in strong use of reverb with a sweetly soulful delivery, Mayfield may be one to watch as she develops. During her performance, the crowd slowly filtered in, making it all too clear that most were there to see Ray LaMontagne.

After Mayfield’s opening set, most of the theater had filled in and I got a chance to scope out my fellow concert-goers. There were teenagers, college kids, young professionals, and plenty of folks in their 50s and 60s who were there to see the quickly rising star perform. Having released his first, widely acclaimed album Trouble in 2004, his success seems to stem from a combination of moving, emotional and accessible songwriting and sublimely distinctive vocals.
Coming out on stage with only his bass player, Ray was dimly lit from above for the first two songs of the set, both slow ballads. For the third song, stage lights grew to reveal his other two backing musicians consisting of a kit drummer and a electric guitar/pedal steel player. The raw emotion with which LaMontagne infuses his songs, his style (which I think of as blues-driven, singer-songwriter), and his distinctive voice, like fine-grain sandpaper worn velvet, kept the audience spellbound.
The combination of a real theater and a performer who connects with his audience almost exclusively through his music meant that during each song, the audience sat in quiet, rapt attention, erupting in applause at the end of the number.
Performing a diverse mix of songs from all three of his albums, I particularly enjoyed his performance of a song off his most recent album Gossip in the Grain entitled ‘Meg White’ about the White Stripes drummer.

Frequently changing gears from more blues- and rock-inspired tunes to softer ballads, the audience couldn’t get enough. At the end of his performance, LaMontagne took the stage solo. Having said nary a word to the crowd all night, and being known as a laconic performer, Ray LaMontagne suddenly started talking to the audience, after which he admitted that those two sentences were the most he’s said to an audience all tour.
After that, the floodgates didn’t exactly fly open, but he divulged more than he may have intended, commenting that there was one other time he’d spoken to the audience for 30 minutes, but that was after smoking a joint backstage, and that probably wasn’t such a good idea.
He thanked the Michigan audience for spending
their hard-earned money to come see him, stating,
“I know what it’s like to be broke.”
Among the wisdom he shared before his final songs were that he wasn’t really so pissed off – he just looked that way, and always had: as a baby he was born looking pissed off, like “really?! This again?!” He acknowledged that he’s gotten a reputation for being tortured, but according to Ray, he’s really not so tortured, not more than you or me, anyway.

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