MONTCLAIR,NJ—On record, Ray LaMontagne’s music is filled with melody and raw passion, and a poetic, soothing voice unlike any other. He has a unique approach to the folk genre, writing hauntingly beautiful songs that touch the soul, but it doesn’t seem he’s yet mastered the art of portraying them live to the best of his ability.
To begin with, Montclair’s Wellmont Theatre—although currently housing artists from Brett Michaels to David Byrne—does not provide their own full sound system. It gives the artist the flexibility to bring whatever it is that they desire and feel comfortable with, but from my experience, it can leave listeners disappointed. In addition, the lighting was poor, and LaMontagne was was barely ever lit.
LaMontagne’s set lacked any bottom, therefore it was impossible to hear his bass player, Jennifer Condos. If I had not seen their set on David Letterman the following night, I would have no idea that she truly is a fantastic player. Drummer Jay Bellerose and Pedal Steel/Guitar player Eric Heywood are also fine players. My only complaint is that they did not seem to move outside of their comfort zone, and played everything exactly as it is on the record. The addition of a keyboard player for strings and horns would have also made a huge difference.
In person LaMontagne is a meek fellow, exuding the stereotypical vibe of a sheltered and shy “Maineiac” (A native-born resident of the State of Maine). While walking into the venue, I noticed him standing outside of his trailer signing something for a fan, and I don’t think he could get back inside fast enough. He barely spoke a word onstage, and when he made a mistake during “Burn” and had to start over, he was so embarrassed that all you could hear was nervous laughter and muffled murmurs to the audience, who were more lively than himself—though unfortunately very obnoxious as well. He didn’t seem to have the
innate ability to interact with and control them so that they would cease to overpower him.
He opened the night, to roaring cheers, with “You Are The Best Thing” and after a brief “Thank you” straight into “Hold You In My Arms” and later “Be Here Now.” Throughout the night he played a great mix of songs from all three of his albums (Trouble, Til The Sun Turns Black, Gossip In The Grain).
Although LaMontagne’s performance was less than I expected, he still remains a rarely talented singer/songwriter/musician whose dedicated fans absolutely adore him for bringing extra happiness and meaning into their lives.