Live Music + Gig Reviews

Ray LaMontagne @ Union Chapel, London

26 October 2006

Ray LaMontagne is a difficult man to deduce. Throughout 80 minutes of performing at the Union Chapel, he spoke audibly only briefly, and he hardly stopped for breath before breaking into song. He is, apparently, chronically shy but in the current climate of a James Blunt-induced singer-songwriter mass takeover, it was refreshing to watch a man perform who seemed energised and liberated as soon as he hit a note yet retiringly shy without a guitar in his hand.

No self-promotion, amusing anecdotes, celebrity guests or flashing lights; just a modest man with an extraordinary rasping voice and some very pleasant songs.

Starting with the delicate Shelter, he covered a dozen tracks from his first release Trouble and the recent Till The Sun Turns Black in the most basic of styles, shouts of “We love you Ray!” bought only an embarrassed smile as he appeared to apply a furrowed-brow level of concentration and intensity to each track – Ray LaMontagne is clearly a man to whom his music means a great deal and it shows.

The venue was also a poignant choice with the Union Chapel promoting a reserved ambience in its seated audience which was a perfect match for a performance that involved no showmanship but a great deal of devotion to musical excellence by the artist.

Even to the point where he stopped a few bars into a song having made an inaudible mistake, only restarting after a mumbled apology which simply drew more quiet adulation from the audience.

After 30 odd minutes of original material the audience were treated to small selection favourite covers – this is, however, where the reserved performance proves a little frustrating. It was impossible to hear his obviously heartfelt descriptions and explanation of the cover he was about to play (unless you were sat at the front of the Chapel) so the songs had no context and only the most ardent music lover might have been able to place their origin.

That said, he did produce one outstanding cover of a Nina Simone track before reverting back to his own material for the last half of the evening.

Despite a curfew of 10pm the evening was only just coming to a climax when the hour approached and the lyrics of Trouble were howled through the Chapel. But this is no criticism, he has a unique guttural voice that is unmatched by almost anything you’ll hear and although he may not be much to watch on-stage, tracks like Till The Sun Turns Black (complete with mouthorgan accompaniment) more than make up for any shortcomings in what was a fascinating display of modesty and fine music.

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More on Ray LaMontagne
Ray LaMontagne – Supernova
Ray LaMontagne And The Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise
Ray LaMontagne – Till The Sun Turns Black
Ray LaMontagne @ Union Chapel, London
Ray LaMontagne – Trouble