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Ray Lamontagne (Thursday, February 17th, 2005, Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis)
Ray Lamontagne publicity photo

By Brian Marx

Performances like Ray Lamontagne’s at the Fine Line Music Café almost make me feel guilty for writing about live music. Part of my job, after all, is to make you feel bad for missing the show, and jealous by telling you how I was mesmerized from Lamontagne’s first strum to his last beautiful howl. You dropped the proverbial ball if you were not one of the lucky ones with tickets to this sold out show Thursday night.

Ray Lamontagne is not a flamboyant, a charismatic, or even a compelling man. On stage, he’s timid and even appears out of his element. Obviously shy in the presence of the crowd that greeted him and his bass man (Chris Thompson) with cries of, “We love you Ray!” and “Thanks for coming Ray!” he managed only a couple of quiet “thank you’s” before digging into his set. But if you are at all familiar with his songs and know a little bit about the man himself, even the little that is in the poignant bio on his website, you soon realize that this is how he must be. Not one of those musicians that bother belonging to a trend or a movement, I’m not going to inundate you with comparisons; he deserves better than that. His hushed tenor and crooning melodies remind you that, though it’s a lonely world out there, you’re certainly not alone.

Lamontagne wasted no time warming the hearts and softening the skin of the crowd. He delved right into the first of several new, unreleased numbers that harbor the same genuine melodies found on his debut album, Trouble. Live, Thompson’s upright bass complemented Lamontagne's serene, tranquil demeanor He stayed on through the first four or five songs before ducking downstairs to the dressing room, leaving Lamontagne to fend for himself. Alone on stage, he was at his most vulnerable; even more so as he chose to perform some of his most revealing songs such as “Shelter”, “Jolene”, “Hannah”, and “Hold You In My Arms.”

In between songs, Lamontagne was for the most part, banter-less. Instead, he nervously ran his hands through his hair, mumbled things to himself, and occasionally even appeared as if he might run off the stage to hide. These quirks presented a sharp contrast to his captivating and confidant in-song persona. At one point, however, he did acknowledge an emotional girl in the front row unabashedly pledging her love to him, saying, “You don’t even know me, you must’ve had a lot to drink.”

Thompson came back on stage to end the set with the crowd favorite “Trouble” and an incredible, eight-minute rendition of “Forever My Friend”, during which Lamontagne transformed into rhythm guitarist and lent Thompson the stage to electrify the crowd with his groove. From that point on, the show took on a new light, and I think I even saw Lamontagne crack a smile. After a short break, we quickly coaxed the duo out of the dressing room for an encore, a calmer, yet more emotive version of “How Come” with Lamontagne articulating his utter disappointment at how war and violence have become the answer to the world’s problems.

After playing an astonishing two hours of new music on the debut tour for his debut LP, Lamontagne left the stage much of the same way he came on…quietly. But before leaving, he appeared to take a moment to console an emotional fan with a hug and a smile. Modest almost to a fault, he had brought tears to the eyes of more than one person in the front row.
Brian Marx is

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