Ray LaMontagne and David Gray - August 27, 2010, Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Toronto
Disclaimer: This is a lengthy post. Brevity is not my strong suit....nor is "tact", apparently...
Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs
I discovered Ray LaMontagne quite by accident. Was searching Damien Rice stuff on you tube one day, found a clip of him singing "To Love Somebody" with Ray, and wondered how in the reign of F&*k he had never crossed my radar before. I love Damien (have a *thing* for sad Irishmen), but Ray made him sound like a pussy. Looked into more of Ray's stuff and was blown away. He's become one of my favorites of all time due to his amazing vocal quality and his story telling ability....I feel him when he sings. He talks to the soul. I recommend seeking out the clip to see what I mean. Ray's talent is effortless, but powerful. He's sincere, in a sea of artists that are not. Love him.
David Gray, I had never really cared for a whole lot - he was okay....but he didn't affect me on an emotional level really. I used to have a friend who I'd talk to frequently about music who recommended the latest album to me (Draw the Line). Said he didn't know where Gray had been hiding all this material, but it was great and I needed to check it out. Taking his word for it, I downloaded it and had to agree - it was full of rich lyrical content....really great stuff. Felt this one. Wanted to see it performed live but missed the boat on the Massey Hall show when he was in town.
So I was incredibly pleased when it was announced that they were going to tour together. How lucky was I?! Getting two great artists in one show! This show closed off our summer concert season and we were really looking forward to it as a mellow and soul nourishing experience. It was a nice way to end things off and we hit the amphitheatre in total zen mode expecting to leave the show in a total state of relaxed nirvana.
Mmmm hmmm. This is gonna get a wee bit ranty, so....buckle up!
We arrived at the Amphitheatre just beaming. There was very little of the regular chaos that is usually associated with a live show (keep in mind the last show we saw at this venue was Green Day...chaos was expected, and we assimilated into it), we entered without incident (cursory look in the purse, but no pat down) and were not mowed down with drunken teenagers. We were thinking "this is great - we are going to have a very civilized evening of music amongst adults! Awesome!"
Found our seats just as Serena Ryder, the opening act was starting. She was actually really good....good enough I plan to check her out further. She has an incredibly strong voice - more so than most female artists I know of, and her stuff is appealing - singer songwriter from the guts type stuff.
When Ray arrived on stage, it was like magic. He and his band launched into "Repo Man" off the new album, and we were immediately immersed in his fantastically velvety with hint of rasp voice to the tune of his jazzy band the Pariah Dogs. It was just something you feel coursing through your body....amazing. Ray's stage presence has improved since we saw him last year. He's a little less scared rabbit. Still doesn't move, still doesn't chat a whole lot, but he isn't ducking the lights when they hit him and he seems to have at least gained a bit of comfort in his own skin. Jakki figures he's also taken some fashion tips from David Gray (always dapper). He was decked out not in his normal homeless wardrobe of checked shirt and jeans (with mussed hair), but pants, vest and hat, beard trimmed and looking shiny. Ray was ON. Ray ran through a number of songs off the new album, with a mix of old favorites ("Trouble" and "Let it Be Me" among them) and I felt the chills I associate with musical goodness that has reached me on a deeper level immediately. I was having a spiritual experience....worshiping at the alter of Ray. As per the clever home made T-shirts of two ladies in front of us who stood and danced the entire set...."Ray is My Religion". Amen girls. Where do I tithe?
But in the middle of all that goodness, there was a nagging distraction.
With Ray coming on so early due to the double bill, it was still light. People were still arriving (oblivious to Ray, I suppose, and there to see David Gray who likely has a bigger following). And with the outdoor venue, it was a free for all - people were chatting, disturbing those seated and trying to watch the performance by coming and going with handfuls of food (ah....nothing says soulful musical experience like a box full of chicken fingers and popcorn). And then there were the people around me, and more specifically, directly beside me. This couple was engaged in a full on conversation, facing each other and not the stage. Laughing and chatting as if they were sitting in their living room. Because they were right beside me, they were directly in my ear, and obliviously loud enough that I could hear every word of the conversation. I found myself losing my spiritual connection and becoming more and more enraged. And then I hear: "Lindsay Lohan got out of jail I wonder what this is going to do to her career". Are you fucking kidding me? I lost it. Admittedly, it could have been handled better, and I could have been a little more restrained, but I was so incensed that these people assumed that just because they weren't into the performance they were living in a plastic bubble, with no consideration for the artist on stage or the people who paid to see him play. I leaned over and said, rather sarcastically "So...do you talk through a movie at the theatre too?!". The guy replies with "oh, we were just discussing Lindsay Lohan" and I, incredulous, say "I KNOW, and I don't care....please stop talking". They were quite offended and said I didn't have to be so rude (apparently lacking awareness of their intense rudeness that prompted me). I suppose they are right....after all, two rudes don't make a right. but fawk! And they weren't the only ones. At one point Ray said to the audience "this is a new song, and it's kind of quiet, so I'm hoping we can work together and all be quiet together for the next 4 minutes". Buddy beside me hollers "at least HE said it with tact". Touché dumbass, but the fact that he had to say it at all is shameful, and tact has never been my strong suit. I can live with that. Tracy and I were talking last week about what superpower we'd like to have and I had initially chosen the power to smite people with my gaze. She vetoed it....said I wouldn't be able to use it responsibly. I agreed, and it's a good thing really, if I possessed this power, there would have been piles of ash in various chairs through the theatre. Here's my thing. Not into the opening band and waiting on what interests you? Either sit respectfully or hit the tables in the waiting area. This wasn't a bar where you can expect a degree of "stuff" going on around you - it was a assigned seating in a theatre for not a heavy metal band, but a folksy singer songwriter act. Back to my "spiritual connection" analogy.....would you chit chat in church while the sermon was going on? (and eat nachos and traipse back and forth through the aisles disturbing the other worshipers and generally act like an asshole?). I think not. Well music is my religion, so have a little respect.
Regardless, Ray was fantastic. Listened to his new album again today and it was appreciated on a whole new level having heard it live last night. He's brilliant and a true talent, and if you don't know him, you're missing out.
Act Two....Stage: David Gray, Audience: Can someone please page Child Protection Services?
David Gray hit the stage at around 9:15pm, and things were slightly better- the majority of the audience was there to see him, so were not selfishly acting like animals throughout his performance and were actually paying attention. I thought his set was great. He played a lot of songs off the album that hooked me initially, and a few more hits that I recognized and enjoyed. He was good. Even with the cold or virus that he mentioned was affecting his vocal chords, his voice was friggin' awesome. I can honestly say that his performance was flawless.....however....He was very polished and professional. Is that a bad thing? Hell no, but it lacked the emotional connection that I made with Ray. Ray's voice cuts through to your core with it's emotion, while David's cool professionalism left me feeling a little lacking. With Ray, the pain of the song's meaning slices through you, with David, while I love the songs and their meaning, he may as well have been talking about peanut butter sandwiches. I felt no personal connection to him. He was fantastic, don't get me wrong, but I didn't feel I was having a spiritual experience. The only personality characteristic I was able to see (and found strangely enjoyable) was the way he moved. David Gray lets his music flow through him and it manifests in very spastic movements. You know....I liked that he was feeling it and letting it take over his body. Respect dude, even though it was a little freaky looking.
Was somewhat disappointed that he played my favorite song of his for the encore, but mucked with it. Nemesis is a great song. I connect with it on an emotional level. It means something to me. But he extended it in the middle and messed with the structure of it to a point where he lost me. What can you do? That's artistic license for you.
While all this is going on, there was a family of 4 in front of us that were a tad distracting. A Mom, Dad, a boy and a girl. Kids were teenaged, I think. Old enough that what was going on was a little disturbing to say the least. The Dad came in and immediately gave the daughter a hug. Then they sat, him with his arm around her and her with her head on his shoulder. Then she was sort of....nuzzling her head against his chest. And he was rubbing his hands up and down her arm....there just wasn't enough "ick" to accurately describe what was happening here. Jakki and I kept looking at each other with a "eeek" expression. The whole family very much resembled John Lithgow's serial killer and fam from Dexter. But at least they were quiet....although the Dad danced like a Muppet.....Sigh....
During their tour, it had become custom for Ray to come back out after David's encore and they would perform the Beatles' "Dig a Pony" together as a finale. How awesome, really, would that have been?! I was looking forward to it.....but he didn't for our show. David Gray did his encore and the lights went up. But who could blame him really for not wanting to come back out after the lack of appreciation that was shown to him during his set. Shame on you Toronto. Ray, come back to Massey Hall so we can take the opportunity to make amends. And perhaps you should employ David Gray as your security....after all, it was him, last year, who stopped mid song to tell off a fan who was fielding a cell phone call in the audience. He may be a good friend to have! (check it out on You Tube...it's awesome!). So....in conclusion (yes, finally!), Ray and David = good. Audience = not so much.