Long Live The American Songwriter
Please excuse us as we write a love letter to the writers of our poems, the players of our power chords, the melodious needles on the spinning record of life or as some call them, the songwriter. In a sea of percussive EDM, hip-hop and the screaming fans of teen pop, it’s sometimes hard to wade through to the lifeboat that is the American songbook. Now, we don’t discriminate about genre; we’re free-loving music junkies around the ALIVE offices. We’re simply happy that classic, acoustic, strumming poets are still making their way through St. Louis.
On Wednesday, June 18, Belle Brigade, Hamilton Leithauser and the birthday boy himself, Ray LaMontagne moved slowly on and off the stage only pausing long enough to politely thank the audience, take a bow and unplug their guitar cords. They know what they’ve got and it’s not the shock dressing, back-up-track, mic-dropping performances that so often are expected at venues as prestigious as The Fabulous Fox Theatre. The spectacle performances have their sacred place; trust us, we were at Cher a few weeks ago. But, the group of musicians that took over The Fox stage on Wednesday night know their power comes from their relatable lyrics, their presence, the tinkle of upright piano, the strum of guitar and their brooding voices.
Leithauser, opener for LaMontagne and former member of The Walkmen, presented his most impressive set moment when he walked onto the stage and began to sing. No booty-shaking, guns blazing, opening song for Leithauser. Just a simple but powerful song that he used to carve out the mood for his set. He captivated the crowd with his powerful voice, slim-cut navy suit, introspective songs and the occasional joke. His drummer almost stole the show as he danced, smiled and bounced around his pared-down kit, behind his front man. But, Leithauser won us over with the grouping of songs he performed from his current album, “Black Hours,” which sounds like it was influenced by classic American songwriters like Randy Newman and Nick Drake.
Original American writers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter all brought us sometimes simple, often complex songs that are still in rotation today and influencing great songwriters like Leithauser and LaMontagne. Trends go in an out but the best songs sound like something you’ve heard before, get you humming by the end and occasionally make you hurt.
Last Wednesday, LaMontagne didn’t give us much of that “Trouble” we all fell in love with 10 years ago. But, the pieces he did give us made the psychedelic slam of songs that he burned through without as much as a break for applause worth it. Just when we thought he might lose the audience, he slowed to a halt, the band quietly left the stage, his bass player grabbed his upright and he belted out a succession of favorites that reminded everyone why he’s such a hit factory. Anyone in The Fox with a heartbeat was jerked to attention and LaMontagne’s raspy wail took us away from work, away from home, away from life and for a moment we were all singing together, a song that we all knew.