In every aspect, in every way you could imagine, Ray Lamontagne is imperiled by his own talent. There has rarely been a performance as emotional and painstakingly touching as the one he gave on November 4 at the Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston. Of all the concerts I've seen in my lifetime, Ray Lamontagne places in the top three, teetering between first and second. The passion contained within his performance — his lyrics, his persona, everything down to the length of his folkish beard — completely envelopes the audience. The 3600+ seat theater was completely sold out, and the audience was seemingly left in a state of awe.
Ray is known widely for his lack of communicative performances. He does not give interviews, and you certainly cannot meet the man. Other than his mass of talent, I think that really gives his fans that strange feeling of attachment to him. The impossible, the mystery, that feeling of complete detachment — oddly enough this seems to draw his fans in closer. Entirely through his music he is able to communicate the deepest emotions I have ever felt being projected unto an audience, those of hurt, fear, and supreme love. His lyrics and his presence instill a unique sense of creativity and emotion upon the fans he touches. His voice is downright haunting, much in the same way Ray Charles left his mark on our musical lifetime. Some of the strongest pairings of soul and absolute talent can not only be found amongst his three albums, but above all in in his live performances.
In my own opinion, as well as that of many other fans I have spoken with, it comes across that Ray is one of those artists who is almost incomparable to other singer-songwriters in his genre. However, in some accounts I have come across, others have mentioned him as being somewhat like our generation's Bob Dylan. Some have even stated that he could be placed in the same arena as a slightly more soulful Cat Stevens.
I could go on here, telling you all about Ray Lamontagne — where he comes from and the life he has led — and the irony that has placed him on a concert stage in a cowboy hat with just an acoustic guitar and memories of words banked together so remorsefully they could break the hardest soul. But in a moment — a simple moment of a guitar chord played so heavily, yet with so much caution — all such information becomes obsolete.
With Ray it truly is all about the music. His dark, dismal, and somber persona can be compared to Trent Reznor. Now I know his music has nothing to do with Nine Inch Nails, but one cannot deny the comparison of two brilliant artists who carry that same form of depersonalization — it's almost as if you don't need to know either man behind the mask. It’s the mystery behind them that makes it what it is. The music is all it's about, which is exactly what Lamontagne is proving.
But this night was different; on this night, 3,600 people witnessed a new man. Some of us might have called what we saw happiness. He joked, he laughed, and he talked. We all talked — about Bob Dylan, of his favorite songs — together as a family. He went on to state how much of an influence Bob Dylan has been on his music, how he would love to cover even one of his simplest songs but felt it would be disrespectful because he could never measure up to such standards of perfection. So if he were to miss a chord, or fumble a beat, he would never be able to forgive himself. That statement all on its own is as powerful in showing the sincerity and honest appreciation for music as it may ever be.
As to not leave us without a special association that each and every person in the room could join in on, he summoned a powerful cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody," explaining that it's one of those songs that totally just gets under his skin. It was absolutly magical.
He stood on the stage—in silence quite often—racking his brain for the right songs to play. You could tell he wanted to leave an impression; he does not leave a show with empty thoughts. It truly seemed Godly; his presence took over, leaving each and every person it touched open and wanting nothing but more. Well, with the exception of the one woman in the crowd who abruptly screamed, “I want to have your babies, Ray!” She may have wanted a little more.
Amidst the head scratching, and the humming of his set list ponderations, he managed to put over quite an array of his songs, dipping into all three of his albums and including a couple of covers as well. His longtime fans were impressed with his song lineup, and even the newcomers were all left satisfied. He played the obscure ones (or rather the ones not featured in dog food commercials), such as "Jolene" off of his first album, Trouble. The song left each fan, old and new, in pieces.
Then in an instant he would lift the corners of everyone's mouths, and wipe the tears off our cheeks by boosting our spirits and playing an enthusiastic rendition of his most popular song, "Trouble," the title track off his first album.
The opening act for Ray Lamontagne shall most certainly not go unnoticed, Dave Gutter, the front man for Rustic Overtones. Gutter is a native of Portland, Maine, the state from which Lamontagne also hails. Dave Gutter appeared on stage, without his band — just a man, and an acoustic guitar, to set the tone that Ray was seeking. Dave normally appears with the full band which I have heard is quite the catch; I will most definitely be taking a trip to Maine in the near future to check them out. Anyone good enough to open up for Ray Lamontagne is worth the gas money.
The most amazing thing was the sensation in the room. It was as if he could have stood on that stage in complete silence, in the dark for hours without saying or singing a word. And with that, the entire place could have been completely content just being in his presence, in awe at the wonder that was before us. But thankfully, we didn’t have to. When I say ‘we’ I say that with a certain purpose. The sense of connection among everyone in the theater was one of the greatest feelings I have ever come to know at a concert. It was complete and ultimate love — it was a sense of looking over at the stranger sitting next to you and nodding your head with bright eyes. By the last song that was played, I found myself holding hands with the boy sitting next to me. I didn’t even have to know his name; the only thing we needed was the unnamed connection we made during “All the Wild Horses.”
How it is that one man and one simple guitar can provoke so many emotions, at such high volumes, in so many people? It's almost incomprehensible. But it is my understanding that his mass of fans experience this through the simple union of music. Which is what makes him so powerful — everything he seems to portray is as unique as what he embodies.
For instance, the way he made us all feel like we were being let in on a brilliant secret. He explained the back story behind one of his more popular songs, "You Are the Best Thing" off of his most recent album, Gossip In The Grain. He said how the version that is heard on the album today was not the version he intended. This was the way he played it for us — it was stripped down, un-cut, and brilliant — a gem that not many people are witness to, performances like this particular one are rare. I just knew I had to appreciate every second of it. He drew out all of the pain, all of the sorrow, the longing. Ray Lamontagne accomplished what no other man has been able to do — Ray Lamontagne brought tears to my eyes.
I had the most amazing opportunity to meet Mr. Lamontagne. After the show the night was spent standing in a hallway underneath the theater, enjoying the presence of Dave Gutter and his band, as well as Ray Lamontagne. I stood there in silence and awe for a majority of the night. I watched him peel the label off of his San Pellegrino water glass, with eyes as dark and as luminous as a setting sun. We all talked about the musicians who had influenced us the most. All the while, I understood that this night was the pinnacle of my life thus far.
Ray Lamontagne is in the process of wrapping up his fall tour. If you can grab a ticket to catch him, I sincerely urge you to do so. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. I am looking forward to hearing what Mr. Happy will come out with after his next recording session which will take place sometime this February; the next album will be recorded entirely in his living room. He seems to be turning over a new leaf. I cannot wait.