Don’t know about you, but the past 10 years, it seems more times than not, I have to really really concentrate on zen vibes to get myself through a concert. The latest was a Ray LaMontagne concert last night at MGM in Boston with my wife.
Really nice venue, and I made sure we had great seats about 15 rows back, dead center. Opening act was Lily Meola, and it was kind of nice that a lot of people had not arrived yet. My wife and I enjoyed the young singer and her two piece band. She left, and then the first “situation” developed. I see this VERY tall man heading down the aisle of the row in front of us. There are many many seats, so what are the odds he’s gonna be in front of me or my wife. Well, it turned out to be 100%. He is directly in front of me. He’s got to be six foot five inches at least…and because we are fairly close to the stage, there’s not any way he’s gonna NOT block my line of sight to center stage I’d so carefully plotted. My wife is bummed for me, but I assure her I’ll be able to see enough of Ray to the right of World’s Tallest Man’s head. (And that turned out to be true, but more on the worlds’ tallest man later)
Some movement starts backstage, and simultaneously, a couple arrives directly behind us. They are fairly noisy and rowdy, but I tell myself it’s gonna be okay because the show hasn’t started yet, and anyway, who comes to a Ray show to be rowdy. (Then I remember the two twenty-something drunk girls at a Ray show in Portland several years back. Hmmm.) We are all waiting for some indication the show’s gonna start, and the rowdy-ish couple are settling down. I start to relax. Lights go down and they are both shouting as loudly as anyone in the venue, but to my relief, they quiet down. I am looking around the side of Worlds’ Tallest Man’s head, as Ray comes his mic.. I am able to totally enjoy the opening song, “No Other Way.” Then, Ray goes into the second song, “Beg, Steal, or Borrow” and a new wrinkle in my lifetime of concert-going experience appears…the fellow directly behind me likes to sing…and with his mouth directly behind my head about 18 inches, it’s almost as loud as Ray. My astute wife knows this situation is not good, and she grabs my arm and pulls me toward her, squeezing my hand tight. I squeeze back…and she leans in and says, “Don’t.” I do my best to block out his voice and try to assure myself he’s not gonna sing all night…he just isn’t.
Turns out, every song that got radio play, Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray just belts it out. So, I try to console myself with the fact he is not singing along to the lesser known songs in the catalog, and I really can see the stage okay even with World’s Tallest Man in front of me. A tertiary issue has developed, but compared to the first two it’s not so bad. The girl in the seat next to me cannot unglue her eyes from her phone. She’s not recording or anything, she seems to be just messaging friends and maybe at one point shopping?
The show is progressing, and the song “Such a Simple Thing” begins. If you have never been to a Ray show…it’s overall a pretty mellow crowd with not much standing going on. People sit to enjoy the show. Well, two rows in front of my wife and I, shortly into that song, a couple stand and try to slow dance in the row space. These seats are very tight…all night long, when anyone is getting up to the restroom, it was uncomfortable trying to pull your legs in so they could get by. Anyway, this couple tries to dance in that space. They cannot, so it pretty much just turns into grab ass and smooching. Now, with this going on, Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down finally looks up from her phone and is incensed this is happening in front of her. I am 99% able to ignore this standing couple because they are off to the left. That’s the good news. However, Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down is telling the friend to her left this should not be happening, and I have trouble drowning that out, and so I cannot enjoy the song. Shame.
Song ends, and Ray’s recent semi-hit “Strong Enough” starts. Well, Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray sure loves that and sings just about every word. It’s a very upbeat song, the place is rocking just about as much as it was all evening, and so I am able to get into that vibe and tolerate it all. (All while leaning to the left of Worlds’ Tallest Man’s head.) Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray sure enjoys singing along to the next song too: “Roll Me Mama.” If you know the song, Ray gets into the range of voice which comes from his deepest stomach cavity…just love that…and so does Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray. Sigh. My wife grabs my arm again…she knows me so well. Song ends and he continues with a lesser known song from the new album…”We’ll make it through.” Thank you, universe, for the fact that Ray is not a hit machine. I ignore the scrolling of Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down and lean to the left of Worlds’ Tallest Man, take my wife’s hand and arm, and we really enjoy that song.
Then, a special moment begins…Ray starts to play my fav song, “Jolene.” As amazing as it is on album, it’s always better live. However, I know it’s also a semi-hit, so it’s very likely Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray is not gonna be able to restrain himself.
Digression: “Jolene” is also the song that resulted in the face off with Two Twenty-something Drunk Girls in Portland years ago. They had been talking through pretty much the whole show, and I could not take the fact they were gonna ruin “Jolene.” So, I politely (but loudly because the song was starting) said something like “I’d really like to hear this song, could the two of you please stop talking.” My request did not go over well, and they yelled at me for trying to “silence women” for the majority of the my favorite Ray song. Sigh.”
So, with the Portland Incident in mind, I decide I am NOT gonna turn and tell Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray to stop singing. It seems he doesn’t know all the words anyway, but then the song is building to its climax, and sure enough, he is belting it out so loudly, eighteen inches from my ears, that I cannot take it any longer. My wife has missed my rising frustration, and so she is unable to stop me from turning around and directly looking at Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray with DEATH EYES. I speak no words, but the expression is enough that his wife grabs his arm and he stops singing. My wife has noticed me turned and pulls me forward. The song still has 30 second or so to go, and I am able to completely enjoy the sublime ending.
Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray has mostly stopped singing, when as Ray is talking about his time in nature, a woman comes down Worlds’ Tallest Man’s aisle. There are not many seats left empty, just one each on either side of Worlds’ Tallest Man and his partner. This girl coming down the aisle has her phone light on, is standing directly in front of my wife and whisper-screaming to World’s Tallest Man that he is sitting in her seats and that he needs to move down one to create space for her and a friend. Ray is still talking, and so it’s not the end of the world this is happening at this moment. Finally she DOES convince Worlds’ Tallest Man he’s not in the right place, and he and his wife move down one seat to my left. Suddenly, I have direct sight of the stage! Ray starts singing “Summer Clouds” which is one of my favorite songs from Monovision. There’s no singing from behind me, and I am thinking this is gonna be the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for…that I’ve been deserving of for behaving myself so well.
The song ends, the tiny woman leans over to Worlds’ Tallest Man and says a quick “Sorry” and gets up to leave. Ray is swapping guitars, and every bit of me is hoping the universe keeps Worlds’ Tallest Man in his new seat. Nope, he and his partner move back. I tell myself, really it was mainly Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray hurting my enjoyment of the show, and so I could deal with a partially obstructed view. A few more songs pass and then Ray announces his final song. He starts to play “Trouble.” and the place is alive again, and Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray braves a few lines, but I am okay because it’s not so bad when a third of the place is also singing along. Plus, no one can begin to imitate the range of voice Ray brings up at the end of the song…and even Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray gives up to listen.
Ray leaves stage. A few people get up to leave, and the rest of us stay and applaud until the encore begins. It’s a mellow not well known song called “Let’s make it last” and I am reasonably assured Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray won’t be involved. But wait, what’s this??? Worlds’ Tallest Man has his phone out, is steadying it on the now empty seat in front of him, and is recording…no, not just a few seconds, but the whole effing song! I can look past the side of this giant’s head, but I cannot miss this 3″x6″ bright screen right there held up at my eye level. The guy one seat over from Worlds’ Tallest Man gets up and moves to the other side of his wife. Ironically, Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down is complaining to her friend about it. My wife cannot believe it…we are both shaking our heads. I say the word “Rude” out loud, with enough volume he can hear it but he doesn’t stop…my wife grabs my arm…again…and I just close my eyes and look down and after a few moments I am able to get into Ray’s voice and enjoy the song.
Miraculously, Ray introduces and sings “Morning comes wearing diamonds” and you can truly hear a pin drop for the first time all evening. Thankfully, World’s Tallest Man has put his phone away. Just a blissful experience hearing that song live. I figure that’s got to be the last song, but there’s one more…and one more time World’s Tallest Man decides he’s gonna record it start to finish. My wife has spotted some open seats to our right, so we get up and she’s says loudly as we are moving, “That is so RUUDE.” I add in “SELFISH” and we take the newly opened seats. We are able to enjoy the last song…but for all those people behind that guy….
With all of these distractions, you might ask, why does he bother to attend concerts in the first place? Well, that’s simple. Ray is one of my favorite artists and it’s always enlightening to see how the album songs are treated on stage, in this case with just him and two bandmates. It’s also Ray telling a long story about camping alone on an island in Maine before “Misty Morning Rain.” It was the talk about his mom before he played “Ojai.” There are those places where the inflection of his voice varies from the recorded version, for example, at the end of “Highway to the Sun” his voice soars on the final word “sun.” It was holding hands with my wife during “We’ll make it through,” a song I played countless times in the early days of the pandemic. It was the absolute vocal perfection on “Summer Clouds” and “Morning comes wearing diamonds.” Those two songs, in particular, helped me to leave the surroundings and brought me to a place of beauty and grace. And that’s why I’ll keep attending concerts for Ray and for other artists I love.