Ray LaMontagne at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center…a very visceral
experience. Ray a quiet fellow, not liking to talk between songs. Playing with
his quartet, the electric/lead/pedal steel guitarist the finest of the musicians;
a supple feline bassist, reminiscent of Rick Danko of The Band in her demonstrativeness
as she delved out each note and/or riff; the drummer very tasteful and restrained, except
when he played ‘Three More Days’ and ‘Trouble.’
Ray reminds me of what I would have expected in performance from the late reticent Englishman Nick Drake, who died at 26 back in the 1970’s…Feeling each song so very deeply. His hoarse seductive voice a lonely one, a loving one. Calling for his momma in his second encore, unlike other songs I’ve heard call the maternal one, panging and soulful.
Prettiest song of all though was the first encore, from his new album recently recorded
to be released on September 2nd, 2008. ‘Winter Birds’ had a beautiful intro, Ray all by
himself for the only song tonight, just him and his guitar, finger picking it to make
Mississippi John Hurt proud. But even prettier and more complex than what I’ve heard from the great finger-picking pioneer. The lyrics about the winter birds coming back, the days shorter, the nights getting longer….
Though as he broke into the vocal it came out wrong, and he had to stop himself, and start
all over again. Regardless, a lovely tune. One to look forward to hearing again and
again in September….
Perhaps his most terrific song lyrically and emotion-wise has these
powerful lines (from ‘Empty,’ from his second and most recent album
‘Till The Sun Turns Black’):
“I looked my demons in the eyes
They’d bear my chest
Said do your best
To destroyyyy me
You see, I been to hell and back so many times
I must admit
You kind of bore me
There’s a lot of things that can kill a man
There’s a lot of ways to die
Yes and some already did
And walked beside me
There’s a lot of things I don’t understand
Why so many people lie
It’s the hurt I hide
That fuels the fire inside me
Will I always feel this way??….”
For the rest of the short show, less than an hour, Ray was the rhythm master, getting each ong going, just playing chords, never having to retune his guitar – – he doesn’t play it
hard or fiercely enough. The music jazzy, folky, misty, unique.
The crowd was all white, very appreciative, knowing many of the works Ray performed from his quiet searching heart. He is a very serious man, about 30 or so, who works through each song. He’s a songsmith, with the spirit of a blue collar blacksmith without the big hard muscles or the soot. He sports a full beard and appears very Christlike as he fragilely begifts the audience a part of his soul with each song sung.
Recording his songs he especially takes seriously after he has he let them take flight out of him in their composition. “I always, always end up recording the songs that I feel are
important to me to work through.” he is quoted in the program guide.
Many of those in the audience expressed their love for Mr. LaMontagne in between songs, and he managed to return the emotion, tho in a taciturn manner. His performing seems to be not an entertainer’s joy, but more a sacred evolution of himself and his inner feelings and intelligence.
‘Gone Away For Me’ had me in tears as I thought of my late beloved wife, as did the following song about sheltering each other.
It was a beautiful tender tho intermittently sad evening that makes one feel mortal and fortunate for having whatever love one is fortunate enough to have, or have had. I thought of my own love, which is usually wild and ecstatic, and Ray’s quiet lovemaking, as he expressed it in one song.
As he was about to begin one song, the light was getting to him as he plaintively said “I feel so exposed.” The lights were turned down, and he thanked whomever was responsible, before commencing another stellar performance of another grand but simple song.