Brian Blueskye
Ray LaMontagne. Credit: Brian Blueskye

Ray LaMontagne is often referred to as a folk-rock artist, but on Tuesday night at the McCallum Theatre, he brought a psychedelic element to his live show, playing edgier material from his new album, Supernova.

The opening band, the Belle Brigade—a four-piece led by Barbara Gruska (drums, vocals) and her little brother, Ethan Gruska (guitar, vocals)—put on a fantastic performance, displaying an indie-rock-meets-country sound. The siblings sang incredible harmonies, and Barbara’s drumming was excellent. At one point, Barbara was telling a story about how they were staying in a hotel on Frank Sinatra Boulevard. Someone interrupted by screaming: “DRIVE!” She chuckled as she corrected herself and then mentioned that Frank Sinatra was kind of “sketchy”—just like the song they were about to play. After a 40-minute set, the Belle Brigade received a standing ovation.

When Ray LaMontagne took the stage shortly after 9 p.m., Barbara Gruska and Ethan Gruska joined LaMontagne’s live band, which played in front of a trippy, psychedelic background with intense visuals throughout the performance. LaMontagne opened with “Lavender” from Supernova, and it became obvious that LaMontagne is evolving in his sound: The song sounded more like Pink Floyd than Bob Dylan.

He followed with “She’s the One,” also from Supernova, and the background visuals became more intense as the band played the hard-rocking tune with blues elements. Barbara Gruska’s drumming was heavy as LaMontagne belted out the lyrics.

Things slowed down when LaMontagne broke into “For the Summer,” a song from his folk album with the Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise. The song was followed by “Pick Up a Gun,” which featured a stunning visual of what looked like an intense dust storm. After “Supernova,” the band played “Airwaves,” during which the background turned into a trippy, outer-space-voyage scene that would have made Hawkwind envious. The lyrics of “Help me, help me, jump and shout” echoed—making the song a little spooky.

The California themed “Ojai” pleased the crowd with its Gram Parsons-like sound and slide guitar. When LaMontagne followed with “Repo Man,” some people in the crowd clapped and even began to dance along with the bluesy song, about a man who will no longer allow a woman breaking his heart to come back to him.

When it came time to slow things down, LaMontagne and his bass-player switched to acoustic guitar and upright bass. Acoustically, they played “Burn,” followed by his best-known song, “Trouble.” They ended the acoustic jam with “Jolene” (not the Dolly Parton song).

When the band returned, the ensemble played “Meg White,” with LaMontagne throwing in the intro to “Seven Nation Army” during the guitar solo.

After playing “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise,” the band said goodnight, before returning for an encore that included “Hey Me, Hey Mama,” and “Drive-In Movies,” as the background depicted a film reel-countdown and what resembled the rear-end of a classic car.

LaMontagne’s set was edgier than his previous performances; however, his show at the McCallum offered variety from throughout his career, and was entertaining from start to finish.

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Brian Blueskye

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Blueskye moved to the Coachella Valley in 2005. He was the assistant editor and staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent from 2013 to 2019. He is currently the...