2/4/2015 – Club Passim

Club Passim resembles the basement of your rec center where you had daycare and learned the difference between squares and triangles. Brown beams support a popcorn ceiling, bread crumbs cover white radiators that line one basement wall, the opposite marked by wooden cabinets you’d expect to hold antique versions of Monopoly and Battleship. Passim is completely unpretentious.

There is perhaps no better performer to fill the unassuming space than folk-blues artist and Massachusetts native Ryan Montbleau, who when he sings looks like a boy demonstrating to his teacher where the teacher has screwed up—earnest and wide-eyed, wise beyond his years.

Montbleau donned a grey beret, and a black Jam Cruise t-shirt, where he had performed earlier this year. The room was a sauna, the radiators pumping heat. Attendees sat around small square tables adorned with fake candles, drinking and gabbing.

Passim’s Managing Director Matt Smith gave Montbleau a warm welcome: “Playing all your favorite soft-rock hits of the 70’s, Ryan Montbleau!”

It was an appropriately chummy introduction for a guy who each January plays three consecutive nights at the club. “Three night stand, story of my life,” Montbleau said as he tuned his guitar. “Just kidding—it usually doesn’t last that long.”

Early in the show Montbleau pulled the mostly middle-aged crowd into the moment with call and response on “Stay.” “A for effort,” Montbleau said, smiling, the audience’s portion of the refrain atonal and offbeat. “Effort also has two F’s in it,” he added, drawing a response more likely to be heard from an audience whose basketball team’s star player just got dunked on.

At his best Montbleau’s guitar playing sounds rootsy a la John Butler, his vocals almost a male Tracy Chapman. He can as easily belt a melody as he can talk lyrics melodiously and have them fit. Though his ability to speak-sing suits the folk genre, Montbleau relies on it too much, as his real strength as a vocalist lies in the bluesy power of his voice.

The audience, who was shouting song requests all night, convinced Montbleau to play “Grain of Sand,” which he usually performs with a full band. At first Montbleau couldn’t remember the intro but he quickly figured it out. Somebody dropped a glass onto the floor. Another person made a guttural foghorn noise and kept making it. “Silence is the canvas on which I paint,” Montbleau reminded the crowd with a smile.

After a cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Montbleau ended with another rendition of “Stay,” the crowd more than ready for their part in the call and response, yet remaining predictably atonal.

Since there’s no backstage at Passim, Montbleau stood in the corner of the club for a few seconds before walking back on stage and playing a few more tunes for his encore. For his final song Montbleau stepped to the front of the stage, leaving behind his microphone, and delicately delivered a version of “Chariot (I Know).” Audience members glugged their drinks and talked over him.

Catch Ryan Montbleau with his original band lineup at one of his two album release shows April 17th and 18th at Paradise Rock Club.

Soundtrack to an Indie Romcom: Ryan Montbleau
Pros
  • Beautiful lyrics, bluesy guitar
  • Whistles with the best of them
  • Has a career in teaching or social work ahead of him if he wants—dealt with childish audience members civilly and with a sense of humor
Cons
  • Relies on speak-singing too heavily
  • Tempo of a few songs he usually plays with a full band wavered in the intros
  • Paused in the middle of songs to interact with the audience, deflating the room’s energy—though to Montbleau’s defense, many of the attendees were loud and drunk and annoying
7.7Whistles McGee

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