Tonight Ray LaMontagne played Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater to what appeared to be a capacity crowd. There was a strict no photo policy, meaning there was a woman in a yellow shirt running around and taking her job way too seriously, but who needs photographs to remember the sonic beauty that can only be the product of one man’s vocals. Ray’s voice melted the crowd’s hearts and was as comforting and relaxing as a broken in pair of blue jeans. Accompanied by a multi instrumentalist, a drummer, and a bass player, material was culled from all three of the soulful singer songwriter’s albums with the same gentleness and emotion that can be found on record. There was no glitz, no glam, and very little whooping from the mostly silent audience. There was no gaudy image painted on a banner behind them, a modest light show, and no large effects filling the airspace. It was a stripped down performance that was perfectly fitting for such a crowd that was merely there to listen to the strength of voice of one man alone.
For most of the show, our hero on this particular evening stood in the same exact spot on the stage and flooded the ears of his listeners with tales of new love, lost love, and heartbreaking genius. I kept thinking to myself that it was a shame that this show wasn’t played on this past Saturday, a day that saw the changing of the seasons pass before Milwaukee’s eyes with the movement of the hands on a clock. Just like that particular day, Ray LaMontagne’s songs can be reminiscent of the winter frost that dangles off of winter beards, gently greets you on a spring morning, breezes and billows through the windows and ruffles the curtains on comfortable summer afternoon, and chills you to the bone like the first feeling of the crisp fall air. “Empty” was particularly intense in this regard as it sucked every breath, leaving the crowd gasping for air and yearning for more at the same time. Songs like “Shelter” and “Trouble,” played successively, were just as sweetly punishing live as I had hoped they would be. Not once did his voice crack or falter. Truly, if you are a fan of his and have not seen him, you must.
Near the end of the show Ray’s ear caught a gentlemen in the crowd shouting “we love you Ray,” to which he answered, “It’s always the guys. I don’t know what to do with all this man love.” To this I just shook my head in a positive way. His music has the power to bring out emotion in even the stoutest of hearts. I remember often times when troubled or contemplative, putting on Till the Sun Turns Black and just meandering through the streets of my town while cigarette paper burned and negative thoughts evaporated. This meditative performance will go down in my heart and mind as one of the calmest and calming that my ears and eyes have ever witnessed. Thanks again Riverside/Pabst/Turner. If you bring them, we will come!