Manchester Apollo Theatre
It is all change for the Apollo tonight, as a venue that is famed for its sloping, standing section at gigs that gives extra momentum to often gushing pit. Tonight it is decked out with seats, as Ray seeks to lull a Friday night crowd into an acoustic driven submission. Debut album tracks 'How Come' and 'Hold Me Forever', are highlighted by the eerie and personal surroundings, for which Ray has been training his hushing vocal whisper, it seems. The blues funk of 'You Can Bring Me Flowers' from the second album 'Till The Sun Turns Black', allows the deft, but one dimensional percussionist to wake up from his sleepy, cushioning stroll. However, it soon becomes apparent that in order to pull it off in this sort of intimate setting, you need a strong, almost family type link between artist and audience. Unfortunately, tonight Ray, although showing his usual adroitness during the performance, minus a few false starts, seems languid and barely exchanges a murmur with the crowd. Until exuberance grips onto one audience member who bellows;
"Speak to us, Ray?"
"I am talking to you."
Came the swift reply and this is the moment that everyone senses this is probably going to be one of those shows whereby you enjoy stripped down range of Ray, but not necessarily the whole experience. In fact, when Ray leaves the stage for an inevitable break, the murmuring worries of "He won't come back", is heard from several directions. However, their fears were soon allayed and Ray appears to have had his moment, as the searching ballad of 'Hannah' creates musical warmth and is powerfully performed.
The popular and haunting pop song 'Burn', continues the vigour sparked encore that culminates in a piercing performance of 'Jolene'. Yeah, this will go down as a bad day at the office for the perfectionist that is Ray Lamontagne, but he will probably go out the next night and have the crowd in his pocket. Ray should be thanking his lucky stars that he can put a day behind him straight away. Think of those poor gymnasts who train for years for the Olympic Games and only have one chance. Many people heading towards the exit look content enough to give the performer another chance. In the hope that the "real" Ray Lamontagne stands up, or sits down with his acoustic, whichever he prefers?