Tiny LA club the Troubadour was, for a Monday night, surprisingly filled to capacity. The cause of the tight space? Singer Ray LaMontagne, fronting a last-minute show after being on tour for his sophomore album Till The Sun Turns Black. An audience of 20-year-olds mixed with more mature fans stood in line at the bar and fought for positions not taped off for record execs and other VIPs. After twenty minutes of awkward mingling and rowdy drink orders, LaMontagne quietly brought his acoustic guitar on stage. It took several more minutes for word to spread and the crowd to take notice. A few shh’s left the entire club in silence, causing an uncomfortable library feel. Without any comment, LaMontagne finally began playing “Be Here Now.”A full cast of strings and horns framed either side of the stage. A drummer, keyboardist, bass player and lead guitarist closed in on LaMontagne. It made the stage just as crowded as the rest of the club. All these additional instruments promised a different sound from LaMontagne’s debut album Trouble. Once he sang, however, that lowly pain-stricken voice so prominent in his earlier work carried the melancholy tone throughout his newest songs.
His playlist followed the tracking of Till The Sun Turns Black exactly; he performed every song on the record. “Empty” reminiscent of Trouble with the strings providing a mournful background to LaMontagne’s tragic lyrics. It seemed LaMontagne sang for himself with his eyes closed, finding meaning in every note. There was little to no movement in the audience until songs ended and the crowd’s claps and shouts filled the room, becoming louder than most of Lamontagne’s performance. He on the other hand never talked between songs.
The pace picked up slightly when the horns participated in “3 More Days” and “You Can Bring Me Flowers.” The saxophone blares and drum taps gave these songs a bluesy feel. The crowd welcomed the more upbeat melodies, applauding for several minutes during and after them. Still, LaMontagne waited for the noise to die completely down before starting again. He did not try to project his voice, often singing just above a whisper, demanding every ear focus on his voice. The audience, for the most part, happily complied.
Though he ended “Without You” saying, “Thank you, see you later,” the crowd was not ready to let him go. His departure ignited a mass of hoots and hollers. This was not just a need to hear LaMontagne continue playing; sporadic shouts and mumbles filtered through the audience, most saying one word: “Trouble.”
He had not played anything from the first album, not even the beloved title track. Most fears were put to rest when LaMontagne returned for an encore. After introducing everyone on stage, he went into “Hold You In My Arms,” following it with others from the previous LP: “Shelter,” “Jolene” and “All The Wild Horses.” LaMontagne left again but still the audience wanted more, cheering, “Ray! Ray! Ray!” He reluctantly came back saying, “You know I love you but this is ridiculous.”
LaMontagne sat uncomfortably for a moment, trying to figure out what to play as everyone yelled requests at him. Finally a voice from the VIP area shouted, “Play what you want, man.”
The screams died down in reverence once people realized the voice belonged to actor Laurence Fishburne. LaMontagne made up his mind, settling on “Please” and “Burn” to close out the show. Though never playing “Trouble,” which made him famous, LaMontagne managed to give the Troubadour enough of himself to finally make an exit.