Ray LaMontagne

by Nick Gunn

14 November 2005

I spent the entire show trying to make paper aeroplanes with my companion's phone number on them to fly LaMontagne's beard. There's a good reason why...

I don’t know if the problem is the same the world over, but something has to be done about the way Sydney audiences move to the music. You can’t do the 4/4 head-bang at a Ray LaMontagne gig; it’s just not that kind of show. And the point-at-the-stage-in-time-to-the-music thing (unless performed with impeccable rhythm) gets very old, very quickly. My feeling: you really should restrict yourself to the halftime sway at white-boy-got-the-blues kinda events.

Which is exactly what this is. LaMontagne has a voice that is far older than he himself, and his bourbon-and-cigarettes tone drove the ladies, and a few of the guys, into a frenzy. One drunken D-list celebrity (who shall… Tim Ferguson… remain nameless) spent the entire show yelling, “We love you Ray!” The bug-eyed guy who co-hosts Australian Idol was there too, making this show something of a minor-celebrity haven.

Ray LaMontagne

4 Nov 2005: The Gaelic Club — Sydney, Australia

And that sort of fit the vibe of the evening. I have to admit I didn’t attend because I’m a fan, but because I have a friend who is. The moment we arrived I was dragged to the front of the stage. I spent the entire show snapping photos of LaMontagne looking soulful and trying to make paper aeroplanes with my companion’s phone number on them to fly into his beard.

LaMontagne makes music that will one day be the soundtrack to one of those love scenes on the OC. He creates melodic, soulful, smoky music. The influence of ‘70s singer/songwriters is evident in the pure accessibility of his songs, not to mention the down-home delivery. Although I don’t usually go for that kind of thing, the show made me appreciate why someone would be into Ray LaMontagne. There’s something infectious about his music that’s especially present live.

A perfect example of which is his performance of “Trouble”: although the chorus is an incredibly intricate lyrical exercise (“Trouble…trouble trouble trouble trouble”), he managed to get the entire audience to loudly join him in singing it. This was obviously what quite a few people had been waiting for all evening, and they weren’t about to let the opportunity get away without a fight.

They couldn’t drown out the band, though, and LaMontagne’s vocals and guitar were augmented by a drummer capable of keeping it tight, and a double-bass player of the lidded-eyes variety; much soulful nodding and shaking of the head followed. In a surprise turn of events the tubby bassist drew a great deal of attention from the ladies. The large group of girls next to us maintained an almost unhealthy focus on the guy through the evening. He didn’t complain.

I had thought that this would be a relatively sedate affair, and I was right, for awhile. The gig started unrelentingly mellow, but the pace and the funk were gradually increased as the show progressed. LaMontagne’s bluesy yowl is versatile enough to carry him from heartfelt ballads like “Jolene”, right through to dirty-funk stomp numbers. But still, there’s not quite enough stomp to justify the 4/4 head-bang.

But the show did offer one huge realisation: I had always been amazed by how many people randomly bump into long-lost lifetime friends at the front of the stage at any given show, allowing them to cut in front of people who had patiently waited there for hours. It happened again here, but this time I had the rare opportunity to listen to their subsequent conversation in close detail, as they were conducting it at high volume mere inches from my right ear. They were complete strangers! My faith in humanity has not yet fully recovered, and I’m not certain that it will.

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