Acclaimed singer-songwriter playing to a sold-out amphitheater takes exception to loud fan chatter and departs amid f-bomb laden tirade, then returns to finish concert. Oh, and Jenny Lewis performed, too.
By Tricia Woolfenden
It was the “f— you” and implicit mic drop heard ’round the world.
Or, at least heard ’round Grand Rapids’ social media sphere (and likely far, far beyond) as reports of singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne’s expletive-laden on-stage meltdown flooded Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The famously mercurial artist abruptly stopped his set and stormed off stage Wednesday night when several members (seated in the front row, directly in the singer’s sightline) in the sold-out audience at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park wouldn’t stop yapping during the quiet of “Like Rock & Roll and Radio.”
The air, miraculously, was sucked out of the outdoor space as LaMontagne and crew exited stage left, abandoning both loyalists and standard-issue Meijer Gardens’ Chatty Cathys alike to wait out the seriously awkward silence.
During a brief — but oh-so-passionate — screed that precipitated the flight, LaMontagne asked the offending audience members, essentially, why they didn’t go home and listen to an (expletive) record and talk over it instead of (expletive) talking over him in the front row of his show. He then demanded their removal by security as a contingency to his re-entering the performance space.
Or is it? (For the record: If Internet scuttlebutt can be believed, this is not the first time the singer has sounded off on a less-than-respectful crowd and some of the proof is on YouTube.)
No doubt, LaMontagne’s behavior will be a divisive issue among Wednesday night’s concertgoers and Local Spins’ readers. On the one hand, what music fan or artist hasn’t wanted to throttle an obnoxious attendee who simply won’t stop gabbing, singing LOUDLY off-key, spilling beer on neighbors or just generally being a douche?
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On the other hand, we exist in a society where thousands upon thousands of other people’s quirks and behaviors can affect our own experience. People do irritating crap. They watch entire shows through an iPhone screen. They dance in herky-jerky movements that block others’ view of the stage. They smell like AXE Body Spray and wear sunglasses on the back of their heads. The world is an imperfect place, and a live musical performance space can be a hyper-amplified microcosm of all that is flawed with our fellow man.
LaMontagne wasn’t wrong for being annoyed — because, seriously, he was only saying what a lot of us want to say, every day — but his grievances could’ve been handled in a much more effective way.
Finish the song, make a very pointed (and publicly shaming) comment to the offending party/parties and move forward as the bigger person. As it was, LaMontagne’s actions took the wind out of the sails of at least a portion of the engaged attendees who were left bewildered and confused as to how his words related to their own concert experience.
(As an aside, with roughly three hours between the time the venue opened and the main act, it is fair to say that some of the audience had become restless, if not bored, by the time LaMontagne started his 18-song set. It probably didn’t help that the singer wasn’t overly conversational with the crowd. That’s his prerogative, of course, but Meijer Gardens’ regulars likely are accustomed to a more upbeat, ego-stroking brand of stage banter. LaMontagne didn’t fall all over himself to praise the venue nor the region, and that’s somewhat unusual for a Meijer Gardens performance.)
The Big Walk-Off wasn’t the only road bump of what ostensibly lined up to be a perfect evening of great weather and talented musicians. An otherwise gorgeous rendition of “Jolene,” off LaMontagne’s first album “Trouble” (2004), was marred by a concertgoer throwing up in the midst of the lawn crowd, causing neighbors to fight their own gag reflexes or scuttle away from the mess. Not exactly an ideal listening scenario.
A FIGHT ALMOST BREAKS OUT; FAN REMOVED BY SECURITY GUARDS
Meanwhile, there was the bitter front-row attendee who “voiced” his displeasure with LaMontagne’s tantrum with an equally childish series of hand gestures and posturing once the singer returned to stage. (The attendee was later escorted out by security after what appeared to be one or two stifled skirmishes with fellow audience members.)
All in all, an uncharacteristic night for Meijer Gardens, where the biggest drama typically comes from folks disagreeing about the height of a lawn chair or the scope of a “reserved” blanket space. If nothing else, perhaps this is a reminder for some concertgoers to more carefully consider why they are attending a show: Is it to really listen to the artist and be a considerate neighbor? Or would you — and everyone else around you — be better served if you hung out at home and played a record instead?
The music wasn’t entirely upstaged by the drama. Here are a few other take-aways:
• LaMontagne’s roughly 90-minute set heated up after the artist’s meltdown. The band returned to stage seemingly recharged, and while not acknowledging the angry elephant in the arena, rocked out for the final five songs, including “Hey Me, Hey Mama” from 2008’s “Gossip in the Grain,” and “Drive-In Movies” from his current, critically-acclaimed release, “Supernova.”
The singer’s voice is at once airy and earthy, gravelly and smooth. It’s no wonder he’s such a hit with the ladies in the house. And to be clear; this was primarily a female audience. His four-piece band ably backed him with bass/upright bass, guitar, drums and keys.
• Jenny Lewis and her white-clad backing five-piece band were a delight during their performance, which followed an opening set by Belle Brigade. Lewis’ songwriting can, at times, seem uneven, but her 50-minute set was an easy-breezy peek at her poppy/alt-country/indie catalog that was perfectly suited for a casual summer evening.
The actress-turned-singer focused on material from her newest release, “The Voyager,” but presented a 12-song set highlight by the 2008 song “Acid Tongue” from the album of the same name. For that tune, she was backed simply by a ten-person “choir,” including every person from her band, plus a few from show opener Belle Brigade (who also serve as backing artists for LaMontagne).
Read WOOD TV 8’s brief interview with the couple which sparked the incident online here.
RAY LAMONTAGNE: THE LOCAL SPINS PHOTO GALLERY
Ray LaMontagne photos by Anna Sink
Jenny Lewis photos by Mike Coon
Click on photo to enlarge gallery
Copyright 2014, Spins on Music
Tricia Woolfenden is a music lover and long-time professional writer, having worked previously at The Grand Rapids Press as an entertainment reporter, often covering West Michigan's music scene. She co-hosts a specialty music show, New Standards, on WYCE-FM (88.1) from 6-8 p.m. Sundays.
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