To lift Dorothy Parker's famous line about love, Ray LaMontagne's music is kind of like quicksilver in the hand: Leave the fingers open, and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away.
LaMontagne, the seductive Maine singer-songwriter who eschews his "backwoods" mythology, is his own quiet riot, even if some of his ardent fans were oblivious to that at the Orpheum on Monday night. For every relentless shout-out from the balcony, there was a curt call to "shut up!" to counter it. People wanted to hear LaMontagne, and often you had to strain to do so.
With the whole stage awash in sunset reds and yellows, LaMontagne stood stoically in the center, strumming his guitar and peering into the microphone. Jennifer Condos played her bass as if the neighbors had gone to bed and she didn't wish to wake them. Meanwhile, drummer Jay Bellerose stamped out his rhythm with the shimmering finesse of a jazz musician, and Eric Heywood added twilight pedal steel and acoustic guitar to the mix. It was so hushed and intimate, you often wondered if Daniel Lanois were manning the sound board.
Even when LaMontagne and his band "rocked out" (note the quote marks) on songs such as "Three More Days," it still felt like you were hearing it from behind a glass wall; a gauzy haze permeated the entire set.
All of this is to say that it was a fantastic show. LaMontagne was masterful at fostering a specific mood. Even though he was playing the Orpheum, his sensibility was best suited for a tiny spot like the Lizard Lounge, as he constantly fiddled with a keen sense of dynamics.
Yes, he was pretty quiet and had nothing to say to the audience, but when he finally raised his voice to a wounded howl on "Barfly," it nearly felt deafening. And exhilarating. Elsewhere, LaMontagne hit triumphant highs and baleful depths on songs such as "Be Here Now," "Gone Away From Me," and "Trouble," the country-soul chestnut that LaMontagne has crafted into an Otis Redding homage.
When LaMontagne made the audience laugh by putting a goofball in the balcony in his place (the guy called out "Free Bird "), his humor came off as especially cutting -- he called the man a name we can't print here. LaMontagne is a man of few words, but they're certainly choice words.