Ray LaMontagne, Accompanied By Members Of My Morning Jacket, Previews New Album and Tour at Intimate New York Show

Ray LaMontagne My Morning Jacket
Brian Stowell

Ray LaMontagne performs with members of My Morning Jacket at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City on March 2, 2016.

Arguably the best thing about Jimmy Fallon’s late-night shows has been seeing artists from Adele to Regina Spektor to Zayn Malik perform with The Roots. The band’s versatile and energetic yet completely distinctive sound challenges the singers, taking them out of the comfort zone of their usual (paid) accompanists to create a spontaneity and urgency you don’t often hear on these artists’ recordings -- and for the musicians, it brings the excitement of exploring new terrain with new companions.

That was exactly the vibe at Ray LaMontagne’s invite-only concert at the intimate McKittrick Hotel in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on Wednesday night. For his new album, Ouroboros, the singer has teamed up with My Morning Jacket -- minus frontman Jim James, who occupied the producer’s chair -- bringing a new dimension for both acts. MMJ is nothing if not a road-tested, versatile rock band, and even though the album will be released on Friday and the combo was tight and well-rehearsed, the group and the singer were both still exploring the darker corners of the songs. It was a combination preview and dress rehearsal for the 45-date, three-month tour with musicians will undertake together beginning in June.

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The newness of the material provided the spontaneity on this night, as the group played all of Ourboros in order as the main set. It’s a characteristically hushed, subtle, echo-laden LaMontagne album and the band accompanies him tastefully, but still manages to rock things up on songs like “Hey, No Pressure” and “The Changing Man.” 

LaMontagne is a famously shy frontman, and he’d basically shunted himself off to the far side of the stage, standing at an angle to the audience so he was really facing the band more than the crowd. But he was in fine voice and the new songs took flight in this setting, with the band largely accompanying him for the song proper and then opening up, swelling and building on the chord structure, embellishing the songs with atmospheric guitar work from Carl Broemel or a bonkers synth solo from Bo Koster -- and several solos from LaMontagne himself, who played an electric guitar on more than half the songs. The two musicians’ ghostly harmonies, so familiar from MMJ songs, blended with LaMontagne’s whispy voice in a manner completely different from the way they mesh with James, but equally complementary -- at times, the night's more haunting and trippy moments sounded like mid-‘70s Pink Floyd songs that David Gilmour sings.

Playing 45 minutes of all-new material is a challenge for any band and any audience, and while there was some talking during the set, the band and the songs were powerful enough so that the conversations didn’t go on long (or a loud section drowned them out). And for the encore, the musicians came back to play five songs from LaMontagne's 2014 Dan Auerbach-produced album Supernova, adding a raucous dimension to songs like “She’s the One,” the title track and the closing “Lavender.”

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“We’ve been throwing this idea around for quite a few years now, and the stars have finally aligned,” LaMontagne said in a statement announcing the tour. “There is some serious mojo surrounding this record and I think it’s going to be a very, very special run of shows.” If Wednesday night’s concert was any indication, it will indeed.