Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

Ryan Montbleau and Jason Spooner at the Varsity

Montbleau Logo

I recently saw the Ryan Montbleau Band play at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis with the previously unknown-to-me Jason Spooner Trio opening. When I say recently, I mean one year ago in October. I failed to write about it at the time because I called in sick to work the next day and didn’t want to draw attention to my fecklessness. With the guys returning in a couple of weeks, now seemed like a good time to shore up my RMB post collection.

I also wanted to advertise the upcoming show at the Dakota Jazz Club You should go. They’re good. I want to promote these guys. They work hard and they’re talented. Their music is unquantifiably special.

My memory of the evening is fuzzy after one year, so maybe the best I can say is, “It was great, man.” The Varsity Theater was a huge improvement over the 400 Bar on their previous headlining tour. I went with my wife and an old friend on a seasonably warm autumn evening, enjoying streets blessedly empty of zombies.

After my first experience seeing Ryan open solo for Martin Sexton, I lamented that alchohol distorted the experience in an unwelcome way. I wasn’t falling down drunk or anything like that. Nor was I stumbling drunk. I wasn’t drunk at all. Not with a fox, not in a box. I just had a few beers is all. But it interfered with my enjoyment of the show somehow. I didn’t want my perceptions altered that way. And for well over a year afterward, I abstained from all alcohol, and didn’t miss it. I saw Ryan’s band several times this way, and enjoyed every show.

But now on this night, I was ready for some spirits. Maybe it was the presence of that old friend. As 14-year-olds on a family camping trip, we once snuck a couple of Blatz beers and spiked them with vodka (also pilfered). It was natural to drink together. And I had started drinking again by that time anyway. One or two beers, here or there — something I continue to do today. Likely because the mind-numbing weight of my responsibilities and career prospects have caught up to me, and alcohol is helpful in coping with the fear and disappointment.

We ordered our drinks and took up position on the raised seating area surrounding the room. There wasn’t a large crowd. It’s nice to have a casual, low-key gathering, but at the same time I also want a good turnout for the band, to reward their efforts. I’m sure they appreciate it just fine having fifty real fans show up, but I have to think they’d love to see the place fill up. They’re slogging away on the road, far from home, but look at all these people come to see us play!

Jason Spooner came out and blew us away. I bought one of his albums in advance and so had an idea of what I might expect, but… wow. The venue, the unfolding evening with my good wife and good friend, and the growing warmth in my gut and buzz in my brain from the first couple of beers… it felt good. I’m still haunted by their performance of the hint-of-the-seventies “Color of Rain.”

The opening set was over too soon. My friend, a guitarist, was resentful that bassist Adam Frederick was a good lead singer in his own right. He thought it unfair that any band should have two good singers when it’s hard enough to find just one.

I later spoke briefly with Jason after the show and told him he made a new fan that night. I forgot to tell him that in addition to owing us regular future visits, he also owed me another good opening act. Martin Sexton introduced me to Montbleau who in turn introduced me to Spooner. These are three of my favorite artists, so I like how this progression is working. (And who introduced me to Martin? Scrubs.) Jason’s band is opening for RMB again this fall, but alas, he’s not joining them until four days after this year’s gig at the Dakota. Damnit!

When RMB started playing, people descended from their seats to stand in front of the stage. I’m not much of a dancer, but I was happy to stand with my drink and tap my toe and nod my head in time with the music. Alcohol is of course the savior of mediocre bands everywhere, but when applied to a good band it can take you to a very happy place. The crowd remained small throughout the evening, but lively and appreciative.

They played a lot of songs from their new-at-the-time album, Heavy on the Vine. I’ve learned it helps to not have expectations for hearing any particular tune, but had been idly thinking “Here et. al.” would be a great opening tune. By the time they played it mid-set, it fulfilled that incidental expectation of, um, hearing it at all. Laurence’s viola shines through on that one, and… ah, Laurence Scudder. This would turn out to be the last show for me with Larry still in the band. I’ll miss him and miss hearing that part of their sound, but I’m looking forward to the new sound with the new guitarist. You better be ready to take our breath away, new guy.

Ryan Montbleau Band, 'Live at Life is good' Album Cover

It was a great show, man.

And much too short. It’s safe to say my expectations for them and the Dakota on October 9th are sky high. This time I have a vacation day planned for the next day, so maybe I’ll tell you all about it.

But don’t just take my word for it. Go see and hear this band!