If you go to a Ryan Montbleau show and you leave with both your face and feet hurting, you know it was a good one. It’s that type of sound that is upbeat and fun to dance to, but it’s also uplifting, it’s honest, it’s real, it’s those often simple yet insightful lyrics that can connect and bring a smile to your face for the duration of the set. It’s a blend of the most feel good parts of folk, soul, and rock, that has found a nice, cozy, welcoming home in the jam band world.
After the Ryan Montbleau Band split up at the end of 2013, fans were nervous, curious and excited to see what type of project he’d jump into next. For those fearing a complete change, that they would no longer hear old favorites live, it seems there couldn’t have been a better outcome. Over the past year Montbleau has called upon a rotating cast of musicians to accompany him, in some cases for entire tours, at times only for a show or two.
The lineup on hand at the Den was truly a treat: Beau Sasser on keys, John Kimock on drums, Marc Friedman on bass, and Mike Dillon on vibraphone/percussion. If you ever see a lineup that says “featuring Mike Dillon on vibraphone” go, just go. After becoming familiar with his unique style in previous Les Claypool side projects, hearing those sounds over those nice Montbleau melodies put a completely different twist on the sound. Sasser brought some serious funk on the keys, and the Kimock/Friedman rhythm section held down the base of whichever direction the band decided to go, proving to be incredibly solid, yet fluid when needed.
Saturday night at the Putnam Den, Montbleau’s demeanor throughout the set showed that he was reinvigorated, genuinely happy and excited to be pushing his songs, and himself, in new directions. He proved to be on point both being a band leader, and member. Guiding the rest of the band with subtle cues of where he wanted the music go, but being generous with letting everyone else take the spotlight from time to time, showcasing the admirable level of musicianship the group of men brought to the stage. Songs stayed true to structure, while morphing in style just enough to give them new life. Every so often the smile on Montbleau’s face lit up the room as Dillion or Sasser grabbed one of his songs and put a healthy dose of their own signature flavor on it, perhaps taking it to places even he didn’t know it could go.
The set was definitely a crowd-pleaser, the packed dance floor at the Putnam Den barely stopped moving throughout the night as the band played through favorites such as “Dead Set”, “Eggs”, “I Can’t Wait”, and “75 and Sunny”. As the rest of the band took a short set break, Montbleau remained on stage for three solo acoustic songs, playing “Chariot” with many in the crowd singing along before welcoming the band back on stage. Commenting that “it’s nice to come to Saratoga, where the crowd sings all the songs back”, Montbleau let the crowd know he doesn’t forget that a stop in Saratoga always means a full room and a party loving group of music fans. Before closing out the show, the night’s opening act, Jesse Dee, was brought up on stage to join in on a couple of songs. His big, soulful voice helped fill the room with warmth. There was also a surprise visit from moe.’s Vinnie Amico, who lives locally, joining Dillon on percussion. The group performed the Beatles classic “With A Little Help From My Friends”, which in some circumstances could receive an eye roll due to a “this song again!?” reaction from a crowd, but on this night it got a pass. It could sum up the evening’s performance, and perhaps even Montbleau’s current touring band situation, as he picks up friends and musicians as he traverses the country town to town, gaining from them help and inspiration.
With the always changing group of musicians, now there is perhaps more reason than ever to catch a Ryan Montbleau show wherever, and whenever you can. Because while the songs may remain the same, the sound and the energy is in a constant state of growth that seems to be as exciting for the people in front of the stage, as it is for the performers on it.