Ryan Montbleau and The Ballroom Thieves pair together like wine and good cheese, exhibiting the range of their folk vocabulary.

8/29/17 – Spotify Boston

As a double bill, Ryan Montbleau and The Ballroom Thieves could hardly have complemented each other better. Performing a private show in the Spotify Boston offices, Montbleau was the perfect fixture for the coffee shop-sized space with just his guitar and signature newsies cap. In contrast, the three-piece, The Ballroom Thieves, with their boundless energy and impassioned singing at high volumes, seemed nearly too much to be contained.

Montbleau represents an old guard. His style is perennial; he sounds as emblematic of the folk music scene ten or twenty years ago. The more contemporary Thieves, by contrast, couch their their inventive, yet backwards facing moment in folk music comprised primarily of three-piece outfits. But the sentiment of their music dovetails, and the obvious admiration each act holds for the other created an atmosphere of friends among friends in an already intimate show —populated by their top Spotify listeners in Boston.

Spotify gathered a handful of both artists’ top Spotify listeners to join The Ballroom Thieves and Ryan Montbleau for free beer and a show to promote the Festival at the Farm at Prowse Farm in Canton.

In a natural progression, Ryan Montbleau played first, opening the show with the title track off of his latest album of the same name, “I Was Just Leaving.” Montbleau bantered easily with the crowd between songs, and his performance style was similarly casual and straightforward, yet dynamic in a conversational way. These qualities were at their best particularly in “Bright Side’ and “Time and Again.” The poetic and melancholy tune “Ghosts” made one audience member’s night, who screamed “Yes!” when Montbleau announced that it would be his next tune.

The highlight of his set was “Ships in the Night,” penned only the week before, a lament of the current political situation and the misunderstandings that arise when people lack empathy. The political environment of the last few years has spurred the creation of a lot of political anthems, but “Ships in the Night” undoubtedly belongs among the most powerful and nuanced of these.

The Ballroom Thieves attacked their set with their typical bombastic energy. For the bulk for their set, there was an undercurrent of complacency beneath their energy. Their most recent album, Dead Eye, was released a year ago and the band has been on the road ever since. They played all of the classics—”Archers,” “Wild Woman”—and many of the crowd-pleasers on the new album, such as “Blood Run Red” and “Anybody Else.” They debuted several songs that had no sense of rote.

The first was, like Montbleau’s “Ships in the Night”, a song of political reaction, this time written shortly after the 2016 election. Martin Earley and Devin Mauch punctuated Calin Peters’s raspy belt with the repeated line “You’re a liar.” The second new song was titled “Only Lonely,” and will be released sometime in fall.

Ryan Montbleau returned to the stage to accompany the Thieves. In a duet with Montbleau and his guitar, Thieves’ cellist and vocalist Callie Peters showed her vocal talents in a way that she had yet to do with the Thieves, covering Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” Peters’s smoky, warbling vibrato shone in a performance that was simple and just plain lovely.

The show was truly a treat, a confection of songs and beer in a low-lit office cafeteria. 

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