Being different isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can sometimes serve to enhance the ordinary, making bland beautiful and transforming simple into sensational. Following in the footsteps of this season’s previous performers My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, Cee Lo Green, Death Cab For Cutie, and Maxwell, folk singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne took his honey-coated vocal chords to the VH1 Storytellers stage last Thursday night at Metropolis Studios in uptown Manhattan, delivering what can only be described as a bizarre-but-compelling performance. As an artist recognized for being deeply, deeply introverted, the very-serious LaMontagne was forced to come out of his shell before our very eyes, and although it admittedly took a minute for him to bust out of his comfort cocoon, the transition was well-worth the wait.
Amid a boatload of full-belly sighs, repeatedly tucking his hair behind his ears and covering his face, the delightfully awkward musician freed-up personal stories that spanned his childhood and adult life, touching upon his single mother-led family, turmoil with his loving wife, and his existential thoughts on humanity’s place in the universe. “Life confuses me,” muttered Ray, trailing off before revealing his seemingly overwhelmed thought processes: “[it’s] …so brief, so beautiful. We’re here and then we’re gone… we’re so insignificant.” The entranced audience waited with baited breath for his words to spill out on the set, often laughing WITH him as he struggled to deliver the stories he was signed up to tell.
Playing furiously alongside his band, LaMontagne sang the love songs he’s famous for, mixing in crowd favorites “Jolene,” “Beg Steal or Borrow,” and newest single, “For The Summer.” And make no mistake: Ray LaMontagne is a musician first; he wants to look back on his music and be proud of it, and discussed feeling incredibly “lucky” to have succeeded in supporting himself doing the art form that he loves. “I was fully prepared for it not to work,” he admitted, revealing that his gig to be a timber framer’s apprentice preceded his entrance into the music business. “If I was building barns right now, I’d probably be just as happy.”
But we wouldn’t be! If Ray had never picked up a guitar and started writing, we wouldn’t have his exquisite songs to fawn over, and we would have never heard the stories whose savory, imagery-inspiring details moved us last night. The homeless woman named Betty who Ray generously gave money to on the streets of Philadelphia. His younger brother Jake, serving time in prison for making “a couple wrong decisions.” The frightening, “f****** ugly” dog Ray would run from as a child, escaping a farmer’s orchard, and perhaps our favorite: “Beulah,” the pink Ford station wagon that Ray’s “amazing” mother would struggle to get started, with six patient children praying by her side. If Ray was building barns instead of making music, none of you would meet these characters who so-perfectly compliment his endearing peculiarity. Meet them all, when VH1 Storytellers: Ray LaMontagne debuts on Friday, June 10, only on VH1.
SETLIST: “Winter Birds” / “Like Rock & Roll Radio” / “Are We Really Through” / “Beg Steal or Borrow” / “Trouble” / “For The Summer” / “Burn” / “Jolene” / “Old Before Your Time” / “Repo Man” / “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame)” / “Out On The Weekend”
[Photo Credit: Pegah Rashti]