Written by Dave Clements
I have been watching live music for all of my adult life and have enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve seen. Granted, sometimes a little more than others. It is rare and unusual that an artist’s concert performance just doesn’t work for me at all. When that has happened I generally think it’s more about me than the artist. Unfortunately last night’s concert featuring Ray LaMontagne was one of those uncomfortable ‘doesn’t work’ nights.
Okay, maybe it was just me? I’d been out late the night before watching Clint Black at The Stafford Centre and up early the next morning. We arrived at The Woodlands Pavilion early because we were excited to finally see Ray and hear him sing live. There was no opener and Ray started 40 minutes after he was scheduled to begin. No explanation given and not obvious why except it was a very sparse crowd. There were only about 3000-4000 people in attendance, a light number under any circumstance for this venue.
When Ray eventually took the stage, he stood in the dark, face totally blacked out by the absence of stage lighting and his wide-brimmed hat. He had ‘sound issues’ for the first 20 minutes of his acoustic performance. Distracting to say the least and perhaps impressive that he just pressed on as the sound guy maneuvered around him. But no shrug of the shoulders (certainly no apologetic grin, though, can’t be sure as his face was unseen), underlined the fact the he barely engaged with his audience verbally or otherwise. When he did speak it was so softly that I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Having noted all of that, once Ray finished the opening four acoustic song set that included Burn, Jolene, Like Rock & Roll and Radio, and Trouble, I think he’d just concluded the best part of the night’s show! For sure this audience responded the loudest and with more interest than anything that followed.
He has been touring with My Morning Jacket and they joined Ray on stage as soon as he put down the acoustic guitar. My reaction and the crowds was one of anticipation that we were shifting into the ‘meat’ of the show with these three additional musicians on stage. It quickly became apparent though after two or three drawn out tunes that this was not the Ray LaMontagne sound we thought we’d experience. Most everything was so mellow/Pink Floyd-ish and it was hard to tell when one song ended and the next one started. All rather sleepy and dreary as the darkness theme continued. The set featured a large moon that sometimes morphed into other planets, this being the main ‘light’ on stage. Clearly they were going for some effect, some image, and while it may have been theatrical it was not engaging for this crowd.
Again it could have been just me having a bad night but I expected to hear LET IT BE ME and HOLD YOU IN MY ARMS. Or if these songs weren’t part of the set list how about some versatility?
I observed a lot restlessness in the audience throughout the show. Maybe they just needed to get up and move around as Ray and My Morning Jacket serenaded us into dreamland? I’m giving this extremely talented artist the benefit of the doubt and saying it was likely me, not him, who was struggling. So forget all of the aforementioned…and go see Ray LaMontagne live and buy his new record Ouroboros!
Until next time remember there is no time to kill.