Saturday night is always the perfect time to check out live music and the folks in Westerly got the memo when they showed up to The Knickerbocker Music Center on April 27. Boston bred and current Vermont singer-songwriter Ryan Montbleau took the legendary stage with his band. Westerly musician and fellow troubadour Will Evans opened things up in solo fashion. It was a packed house with the drinks slinging’ and plenty of singing. To go along with it, there was a lovely vibe in the room from beginning to end.
Evans kicked off his set with “Family Tree” that began with an instrumental improvisation from his acoustic guitar. He then looped a beat he boxed organically with his mouth and started humming a didgeridoo. “Restless Spirit” had a similar approach but with more of a driving style. Halfway through the song his mic gave way, some hippie with dreads yelled that Evans is sexy and then he went right back into it as if nothing impeded his performance. The rhythmic “Adam & Eve” finished the set, Evans had fantastic camaraderie with the audience and got them set for the rest of the show.
After a short intermission, Montbleau and his band got into the hypnotic “Growing Light.” The band’s backing singers, including Vermont musician Hayley Jane from Hayley Jane & The Primates, provided excellent harmonies. “Hot Coffee In A Paper Cup” with a vintage ragtime sound got the crowd dancing on the gigantic floor. They followed that up with the electrifyingly bluesy “Head Above Water”. A ton of energy was conveyed due to Montbleau’s voice playing off of the backing singers during the chorus.
Half way through their set, Montbleau offered a toast to the sold out venue. Then they went into “Glad” to express their feelings about the evening. “Dance, Dance, Dance” lived up to its name with everyone starting to move around again. Then out of nowhere, Montbleau recited a poem about things he’s never done, other than some stories about a few vices. He also wants to win a Grammy, play Red Rocks in Jefferson County, Colorado and meet John Mayer in person so he can make his own opinion.
The poem then went into all the musicians he’s seen along with hanging out with a few such as G.Love one day that consisted of getting lifted and playing the blues for hours on end. People loved the poem and the band went back to the music with “Grain Of Sand.” One highlight of the performance was a trio of sequential covers featuring The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” and Little Feet’s “Long Distance Love”. Entering the final stretch the band went back to the originals “Song Bird” and “75 and Sunny”. The former actually shifted to a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” during the breakdown that brought the festivities to whole new level. To conclude a performance that lasted over two hours with everyone sticking around, Montbleau and the band played “Prancing Like Prince”.
Incessant clapping invaded the room and Montbleau came out solo for a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and a new one titled “I Am Thankful” for an intimate encore. As the night went along, it seemed like more and more people started singing every word to each song. It was a special time and no one wanted it to end. When it did, people left with smiles on their faces while exclaiming to their friends what they just witnessed. Live music was very much alive last Saturday on 35 Railroad Avenue.