Monday, August 08, 2005

It's a shame about Ray

The Ray of whom I speak is Ray Lamontagne, a Maine singer-songwriter who's had a whole mystique built up around him -- time working in the shoe factories of central Maine (probably when he was, like, 11, since most of them have been closed for years), a nomadic existence living out of his mom's car, then an awakening upon listening to Tree-Top Flyer by Stephen Stills. Then, a few years later, a record deal.

And I love Trouble -- it's an excellent, grim, moody album that is perfect for road trips.

But the problem with seeing Lamontagne live, at least last night at the State Theatre (about which more griping in a moment), is that there's not a lot of variation in his songs, from tempo to cadence to subject matter to key. Which makes 90+ minutes of listening to him (at least when he wasn't drowned out by the obnoxious drunks in the crowd acting as if they were at the local watering hole) a little tedious. Still, his voice is amazing. I was trying to figure out how to describe it; he's got more than a little Van Morrison (that soulful growl)... and that's as much as I can come up with. (No coffee or shower yet this morning, so the brain is moving a little sluggishly.)

As for the State Theatre: It has become a miserable place to see any act that does not totally rock out. We saw Wilco there last summer, and by and large it was fine, because they played loudly enough that you couldn't hear the morons. But a guy with a guitar? Not so much. Part of the problem is the layout: It's an old theater, and there are no doors between the main performance space and the halls. In fact, there are even large windows cut into the walls, so you can lean your can of Heineken on the sill, chat loudly into your cellphone and still pretend to watch the show. And on top of all this, there are the bars. Many of them -- including, as of last night, a piece of plywood on top of a garbage can. And on top of the plywood was a tub full of cans of beer. And all of this was in the middle of the floor section, so that the idiots didn't even need to stagger to the back of the hall to get their drink. Grrr.

And then there's the seating: A while back, they pulled out almost all of the floor seating, leaving just 10 or 12 rows of seats. For quieter shows, like Aimee Mann and John Hiatt, they bring in f0lding chairs to fill that space and sell assigned seating. For most shows, though, it's general admission. Which meant that my dad, with his bum knee, and my mom spent the show in the middle of the theater seats, able to just see the top of Ray Lamontagne's head. The rest of us stood in the back, where we could see fairly well, but where the noise of idiocy was overwhelming. And the thing about the idiocy is that this show was a really big deal -- the first time he's played a venue this large in Maine. The show was sold out... and people who'd paid $25 for tickets completely ignored the show to drink and talk. Loudly. I enjoy having a beer at a show, but I'd gladly give up that opportunity if it meant the crowd would even remotely approach civility.

So the long-awaited show was a bit of a disappointment. It did inspire me to come up with a whole theory about why so many college-aged girls absolutely swooned over Lamontagne, a skinny bearded guy straight out of 1978... The theory involves John Mayer and the tendendcy of many girls to imagine rock stars as boyfriends, but in the light of day it's kinda dumb. And obvious. So I will spare you the details. And, if Ray Lamontagne comes to your town, you might want to just stay home, drink a little red wine and listen to his album instead of being irritated by the idiots and, sadly, a little bored by Ray himself.