David Gray, Ray Lamontagne concert review
By Jeffrey B. Remz
(This review appears in slightly different forms on the Country Standard Time and Standard Time web sites)
David Gray and Ray LaMontagne may be a lot more different than they are the same musically and otherwise, but both made for an engrossing night of music.
Interestingly enough, the first of two shows before full houses also marked the same day that “both” artists released new discs. LaMontagne is going in a different direction with ” God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise,” which is more country-based than other efforts. Gray released a two-set CD, “Foundling.”
LaMontagne was certainly an understated figure beyond not smiling or cracking a single funny line. While Gray, for example (and just about every other lead singer) mans the front of the stage, LaMontagne was back always slightly towards the right almost blending into the background.
He cuts a good figure sartorially though with a brown hat and vest, white shirt and full beard. (Actually for that matter, this was an evening of fine dressed singers. Gray was in a suit and shirt with his band dressed up as well).
Maybe he’d prefer to be in the background, but his music just won’t let him. The New Hampshire native, who has lived throughout New England and indicated this was hometown gig for him, started with two new songs from “God Willin…”, “For the Summer” and the downer “New York City’s Killing Me,” with the latter particularly compelling. That was not a surprise given that the opening lines are “There’s just somethin’ about this hotel/Got me wishin’ I was dead/Got to get out of New York City/Somewhere I can clear my head.” What may have seemed like a negative (and is) ends up with a sense of optimism about finding oneself in a better place, something LaMontagne knows a thing or two about from his difficult past.
LaMontagne did not save his best-known song (thanks to TV commercials), “Trouble,” for the end. In fact, he trotted out as his third song treating the gem like his other song babies – with a lot of care and emotion.
LaMontagne mixed it up for 70 minutes between his bluesy vocals and a more country bent. His backing band, the Pariah Dogs, certainly were top notch, although that would be expected when you have folks like Eric Heywood on pedal steel and guitar, Jay Bellerose on drums, Jennifer Condos on bass and Greg Leisz on pedal.
Serious though he may be, LaMontagne demands your attention.
David Gray had no such need because he does so with his personality and music. Gray’s far more outgoing and outwardly emotive than LaMontagne, far more effusive, but that was not a bad thing.
Gray has a big, full-bodied voice to go with catchy songs that served him extremely well. The singer tended to hold his notes on occasion to create greater impact.
He opened strongly with “Fugitive,” a typical song for him where his vocals shone, the melody was catchy, and his backing band had no trouble doing its job. He also could be commanding on slower songs (Be Mine) without overdoing it. Gray played only one song from the new CD, “We Could Fall in Love Tonight,” going so solo acoustic. He acquitted himself well on it, although it was not as good as his older fare.
Gray did not play a lot of songs during his 90 minutes, only 15 including the three-song encore, so he tended to stretch the material out a bit, but there was no sense of boredom.
The emphasis fortunately was on the music as the staging – a backing curtain usually with twinkly colored stars – was low key although pretty for the setting.
LaMontagne joined Gray for the final song of the nigh, “In the Morning.” As a song, it’s fine, but it wasn’t as if Gray and LaMontagne meshed so so well vocally. But like the rest of the evening, both Gray and LaMontagne provided for different styles – both quite good.