All photos by Julia Lofstrand (firstname.lastname@example.org / www.julialofstrandphotography.com)
Members of the Ryan Montbleau Band woke up at about the same time as many Black Friday bargain hunters last week, but instead of travelling to Target or Wal-Mart they jumped in their van for the long drive from Massachusetts to DC to get ready for a fantastic show at the Hamilton. If the infectious six-piece group was fatigued either from the drive or an overdose of turkey the previous day it didn’t show as they put together a wonderful array of tunes ranging from soft acoustic folk songs to jumpy blues numbers to full-blown gospel revival.
The road trip must have been on their mind for the first two numbers - the band burst out of the gate with “Slippery Road” from 2010’s Heavy on the Vine, before taking on Bill Withers’ “Heartbreak Road.” While it’s hard to top Withers’ original the band did a funky good job, alternately sounding like Jamiroquai and Allen Stone as keyboardist Jason Cohen did some fine work on his jazz organ. The funk continued as they hit a Meters groove with “Inspired By No One” before seguing into what Montbleau called “authentic Massachusetts reggae” on “Songbird.” The tune got people up and dancing – albeit tentatively – on the sides of the stage; while folks wanted to move their feet, they didn’t want to be the first one to do so in front of the stage. They came close as the entire crowd got fired up during “Yeah Man” from the Montbleau Band’s most recent album, For Higher. Recorded in New Orleans with an impressive array of well-known bayou musicians, For Higher is a wonderful gumbo of different styles, perhaps all embodied by the uplifting, hugely danceable “Yeah Man.”
Montbleau performed two solo songs, starting with “75 and Sunny,” a peppy number about aging gracefully that features the great repeated line “I’d rather be 75 and sunny than 29 with a chance of showers all the time.” He added the contemplative number “Just Perfect” before being rejoined by his band for the jazzy “Hot Coffee in a Paper Cup,” a thematic and musical twin to the song “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” from the old musical 70, Girls, 70.
Speaking of 70, as Montbleau finished his regular set a charming older couple began slow dancing in front of the stage just as the band launched into the rocking “Here et al.” Between verses Montbleau glanced at the dancing couple and said “I feel bad, we should have played a slow song.” He made up for it in his four song encore, starting with the quiet “How Many Times” and continuing with “The Boat Song” from One Fine Color. The band ended the show on a VERY high note with “City,” a gospel-infused rocker that got whoever was left sitting to stand up and shake.
Throughout the evening Montbleau was effusive in his praise of opener Nathan Moore, whose laid back folk called to mind Todd Snider. Moore was wonderfully self-deprecating, telling stories of his Thanksgiving and rocking a pretty mean kazoo. It was a quiet intro to an evening that got continually better as it rolled along.
If you missed the show because you were out of town, have no fear; Montbleau makes all his shows available on his website, and you can name your price. We recommend you give all you can, however; this show was worth it.