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Ray Lamontagne in Belfast

January 21, 2007

The Ray Lamontagne gig at the Waterfront in Belfast last night was something unusual. This was the anti-gig. No fireworks, no hype, no ‘buy my records’, just people playing their music because they are compelled to.

Ray, and his support act Leona Naess showed a startling unwillingness to inhabit the limelight. Leona, whom I confess I had never heard of, despite having at least three albums and a fourth on the way, had the most gorgeous voice. Yet everything else about her spoke of discomfort. She was tall for a start and her long hair fell over her face, but she made no effort to tie it back. She stooped over the microphone as if uncomfortable in her height and wore shoes so flat she might as well have been barefoot.

What was most interesting was her request to the lighting technician to turn the house lights down (it was already dark in the auditorium). When it became obvious that this was impractical, (the late arrivals needed some measure of gloom to get to their seats) she explained that she gets nervous if she can see her audience!

But her music and lyrics were complex and engaging, and made a fan out of me.

Ray, of course is famously reticent. He never said a word for 20 minutes, until the loquacious Irish audience took the matter into it’s own hands. Some guy from high up in the 2,000 strong sell-out crowd shouted to Ray between songs, ‘Hey Ray, remember I met you in the Double Doors in Chicago?’ Ray didn’t hear clearly, or couldn’t understand the accent and asked him to repeat, so he and this disembodied voice began a conversation, in which Lamontagne displayed a nervous and awkward sense of humour.

Yes it was so quiet and concentrated in the auditorium that members of the audience had one-to-one conversations with the stage.

What was also remarkable was that Ray had no spotlight. He and the band were all bathed in a warm orange light all night, and he peered out from two inches of bare flesh between the top of his beard and the fringe of his long hair.

As for the music. Well, he’s brilliant and passionate live. The music of the album Trouble played better overall to my mind. And funnily enough the standout songs were when the rest of the band deserted the scene leaving Ray on his own with the guitar. The intensity of Burn, Jolene and Lesson Learned had me sitting forward in my seat and barely breathing.

The exception was a powerful version of Trouble. When this quiet and shy man threw his head back in the chorus and his voice soared to the ceiling he resembled a great shaggy lion roaring a claim on his territory. When he testified ‘I’ve been saaaaaaved, by a woman’ you believed him.

This was in stark contrast to the quiet between songs, punctuated by load sighs, and whispered OKs. He only rarely spoke, maybe to say thank you, or, after a raucous ‘Three More Days’ explaining he needed to recover his breath.

Having seen Van Morrison in his various moods, you get to know genuine reticence and shyness from sheer rudeness. Ray Lamontagne is painfully and genuinely shy. His songs seemed to finish on the downbeat as if to discourage too much appreciation from the audience. He began and ended the main set on slow songs. He took an age to return for his encore. And he finally left the stage with a series of awkward, geeky waves.

I was left thinking after these performances about the artistic impulse. What must it be like to be impelled in a direction so at odds with your character? In their cases, to write and perform music, yet hate the limelight.


From → Music

  1. Kate permalink

    I saw Ray live this summer in Philly–it was a very very interesting show. He was opening for Guster. Yes, Guster. I’m not sure if you’ve heard Guster, but this pairing was just a match made not in heaven! Guster’s great, no disrespect to them, but they have a core audience of frat boys and high school kids. So the majority of the audience did not appreciate Ray’s music at all. A lot of them just talked over his show, which was funny to observe a bit… there were hardcore female hippie type Ray fans just whipping their heads around and glaring–glowering– at the talkers. Ultimately, Ray finished All the Wild Horses, got really frustrated, and tossed his guitar up in the air a bit, so that it fell and broke. And he walked off very upset. It was an uncomfortable moment.

    Contrasts alot with an Amos Lee concert I went to in October. Amos, being from Philadelphia, had his mom in the audience, so he was just playing and playing and playing and smiling, and loving on the audience like crazy, and they were loving on him, man. 🙂 He kept dedicating somgs to his mom and grandmom and wouldn’t get off the stage! It was great. 🙂

    Anyway, hi! I checked up on the Skainos website and saw you got some advance funds! i’m so excited for you guys and I can’t wait for everything to start rolling!!!


  2. Hey Kate, great to hear from you. We were talking about you last week…all good. Ray was great in Belfast and so was Leona so I’ve no complaints. Talking of Amos reminds me that he was the last singer-songwriter I saw in the Waterfront. He supported Norah Jones and completely overshadowed her.

    Skainos is progressing still. Slow but sure.

    Job good??

  3. paula permalink

    was at the show on saturday night,i’d been counting down the days from i got my ticket….and boy,was’nt he worth the wait….
    fantastic show,his shyness undoubtly come through with like you said very little chat,but he can capture everyones attention when he opens his mouth,and sings with the rawness that makes you beleave he’s been there and done that…..the majic of music…
    I couldnt beleave some dude had the balls to shout up to him,was very funny indeed,mr lamontagne handled him well…..

  4. I enjoyed the banter I gotta say, though some wanted to strangle them. I particularly liked the guy who asked for ‘crazy’….he was!

    And yes, Paula, worth the wait.

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