Ray LaMontagne and Jenny Lewis - Fillmore Miami Beach

Ray LaMontagne and Jenny Lewis

With Belle Brigade

Fillmore Miami Beach

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Better Than: A night with any of these great acts alone.

On any other evening, the sweet strains of Belle Brigade's sibling tandem, Barbara and Ethan Gruska, would've been show enough.

But over the weekend, the Magic City's fans of pretty and thoughtful tunes were blessed with a triple bill. And the Gruskas were merely the openers for Ray LaMontagne and Jenny Lewis.

See also: Ray LaMontagne Talks Supernova: "I Can Trust My Gut at This Point"

Given the Belle Brigade's pop punch and pizzazz, it was already hard to imagine how the headliners could give the Gruskas much of a run for their money.

Yet, there they were, opening the show at the Fillmore Miami Beach. And already, the crowd was swooning with delight, many no doubt wishing that they could carry on well beyond their scant 25-minute stint.

Ernest and enthusiastic, drummer Barbara Gruska plays her traps with a casual sense of abandon, steadfastly keeping the perky rhythms aloft while looking like a kid taking a first whack at being the band's backbone. She even managed a concise drum solo.

But it was her interplay with her brother Ethan, the band's winsome guitarist, singer and front man that brought comparisons to a sturdier White Stripes or a less stodgy Black Keys, courtesy of the guitar/drums duality.

Hence the uncertainty. Clearly, the freshness and spontaneity borne by the Belle Brigade brought some concern as to the ability of Jenny Lewis to hold her own.

Although she's no slacker either when it comes to fresh-faced pop persuasion -- her tenure in Rilo Kiley providing all the proof necessary -- her recent preoccupation with songs of circumspect and romantic woes did give cause to think she might falter by comparison. Now liberated from the Rilos for the first time, one might wonder if she was going to attempt to remake herself as some sort of chanteuse.

See also: Jenny Lewis: "I'm Single and Ready to Mingle"

Happily, there was no reason for concern.

From her set's assertive start-up, "Just One of the Guys" (a song taken from her side project, Jenny and Johnny), through to the relentless rock of "She's Not Me," Lewis was wholly on her mark, alternately playing guitar, sitting at the piano, and beaming broadly in a solo star stride.

So too, her shy, unaffected demeanor was buttressed by the unabashed exuberance of each of her songs, and when she did detour into the prerequisite pose and posturing, she did so without any hint of detachment. "Bad Man's World" brought the set to a crescendo mid way, her tone suddenly turning dark and tempestuous, while singing with an air of authority that belied her mostly playful posture, Likewise, "Love U Forever," one of the many highlights of her upcoming album The Voyager, proved equally emphatic.

In fact, there was no shortage of standouts in Lewis' set, given the inclusion of songs such as "Silver Lining," "Close Call," "A Man/Me/Then Jim" and "A Better Son/Daughter" -- all culled from the Rilo Kiley repertoire -- as well as the sumptuous "Acid Tongue," the title track of her last album whose lyric about dropping acid elicited the crowd's knowing enthusiasm. Lewis herself proved the perfect show girl; as her five piece band continued to rail its way through "She's Not Me," she grabbed her drink, tossed her jacket over her shoulder and danced off, leaving the crowd cheering and for the second time that evening, hoping for more.

Nevertheless, given a set that lasted an hour and a baker's dozen songs, it was inevitably to make way for the headliner, who now had the unenviable task of trying to compete with not one, but two extraordinary support groups.

Given his somewhat dour disposition and well known reputation for being somewhat shy, LaMontagne could hardly have been forgiven had he seemed somewhat ruffled.

Happily, here again, that proved not to be the case. The opening offering, "Gossip in the Grain," heralded a decided sense of gravitas that was clearly his forte, and set against a dramatic light show, all indications were that the crowd was witnessing an able headliner capable of clearing any high bar. Looking a bit Dylanesque with his sharply pressed fedora and stoic demeanor, LaMontagne offered an occasional greeting but mostly let the music speak for him instead.

It was especially odd then when at one point he gave a genuine shout out to Justin Timberlake, declaring him a friend and avid supporter. Noting the snickering of the crowd, he quickly responded "Just because I don't hang out at parties with him, doesn't mean we can't be friends."

While that was one of the few moments of levity, the emotions still ran deep. (The other mirthful moment came when, after being coaxed out for an encore, he scolded the crowd and pleaded, "Don't bust my balls, will ya!")

Backed by a band that included the two Gruskas of the Belle Bigade, LaMontagne ran through a set of songs that essentially formed, if not a greatest hits, certainly a greatest bits, of his still burgeoning recording career. Alternating between the muffled blues of "Trouble" (a song best known as the theme for a commercial featuring a paranoid dog out to protect his prize bone), a swell of psychedelia and the wounded Neil-Young-like sprawl of his country rock rambles, LaMontagne painted a varied portrait of rustic, roughhewn Americana of a vintage pedigree. That was particularly true on the plaintive "Jolene," the irrepressible "Drive In Movies" and the song that's most haunting of all, the dreamy "Ojai."

It's a credit to his craft that LaMontagne not only finds himself headlining such an impressive roster, but does so fearlessly, when he could have just as easily been upstaged. Still, given the impressive warm up, the credit for the concert's success was equally divided.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: One couldn't ask for a line-up of better bands.

The Crowd: Although clearly there to see LaMontagne (as evidenced by numerous shouts of "We love you Ray!"), the audience was gracious enough to show some love for the opening acts.

By the Way: All three acts likely have bright futures before them. The Belle Brigade, courtesy of their radiant repertoire. Lewis, due to her presence and performance. And LaMontagne, because he has the charisma and cool that stardom demands.

Jenny Lewis' Setlist:

-"Just One of the Guys" (Jenny and Johnny song)

-"Silver Lining" (Rilo Kiley song)

-"Head Under Water"

-"Pretty Bird"

-"Close Call" (Rilo Kiley song)

-"The Moneymaker" (Rilo Kiley song)

-"The Next Messiah"

-"Bad Man's World"

-"A Man/Me/Then Jim" (Rilo Kiley song)

-"Love U Forever"

-"A Better Son/Daughter" (Rilo Kiley song)

-"Acid Tongue"

-"She's Not Me"

Ray LaMontagne set list

-"Gossip in the Grain"


-"She's the One"

-"For the Summer"

-"Pick Up a Gun"


-"There's No Other Way"


-"Beg Steal Borrow"




-"Old Before Your Time"

-"Meg White"


-"God Willing"

-"Without WOrds"

-"Hey Me, Hey Mama"

-"Drive In Movies"

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Lee Zimmerman

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