November 13, 2006
I am reluctant to refer to Ray Lamontagne's concert as beautiful agony, due to the sexual connotations. However, it is almost unavoidable as it is the most apt description. It was certainly agonizing for both the audience and Ray, but it was also certainly beautiful. And the term is certainly apt in other ways as there was a certain voyeuristic quality in watching the painfully shy Ray struggle mightily to summon his musical muses, almost as if he was releasing all his inner demons in performing his songs.
It was also one of the most interesting concerts that I have been to since Ray's struggles were clearly not only limited to his own performance anxieties but were also further burdened by
tremendous technical difficulties. (Ray, you are awesome, but you may have the worst tech in the business running your soundboard.) Ray spent inordinate time between songs tuning his guitar and had to repeatedly apologize to the audience. At one point, he threatened to fire his guitar man. In addition, the volume of his sideman's slide guitar popped in and out in a very distracting manner and the reverb almost swallowed the music completely during several upbeat numbers. The sound was balanced correctly for only about half the concert.
Then there was Ray. During long pauses between songs, he fumbled with his guitar, he mumbled nearly incoherent responses to the crowd's whooping song requests. He seemed to have to sturdy himself, staring ahead, looking for courage, before each song and often combed down his hair nervously with his fingers. He was excruciatingly uncomfortable on stage and was, consequently, almost mesmerizing- had not the sound difficulties not been so distracting.
Nevertheless, despite all these limitations, it was still possible to hear Ray's abundant talents. Ray may have one of the most expressive voices in music and is perhaps one of the finest songwriters around. His songs are drenched with longing- for love, for acceptance, for redemption. For anyone who has felt out of place or unable to control or understand their emotions, Ray has a song that captures that feeling perfectly. In many ways, Ray's songs are all about the beautiful agony that is the life of a sensitive artist, which is a life he clearly knows well. In a world of musical artists more concerned with branding and copyrights, encountering a real artist trying to express their interaction with the world and their struggle to understand it is compelling even if the sound mix kept him from breaking free.