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so what's a few hundred miles between friends?

summer days at work listening to winter songs, sleepless and smiling, distracted and complete. the most important people to me are thousands of miles away and they understand every single word. the people closest to me can't always hear what I'm saying. but, maybe for just this morning, it's alright.

I knew ray lamontagne was coming to the hampton beach casino ballroom for quite some time now, and sarah has been prodding me to go - when she said it was about an hour from where she was, I thought the drive home would kill me. as it turns out, coming straight from new haven with no bostonian detours puts the drive at just over three hours. I discovered this at about two in the afternoon yesterday, and by three thirty I was speeding up the highway, internet ticket and directions on the seat beside me. welcome to my life. victoria, nice to meet you. hi.

right when the drive was getting endless it was over, and as I sparkled up my eyes and dutifully took lefts and rights I saw another sign that I didn't stop to photograph. I chalked it up for the ride back, but the highway took you a different route - it was one of those store signs up at the road, white plastic with lights behind, for some kind of furniture place. and where the one strip was for interchangable letters, it said simply SOFA*LOVE (which is the same amount of letters as LOVESEAT, but SOFA*LOVE makes it so much more to tug at your heartstrings, no?) and it's burned into my brain forever. if you take 107 to route 1 towards 101 east just over the border in new hampshire, it's on the left. send me a shot, will ya? thanks.

the hampton beach casino ballroom, contrary to popular belief, is not a casino. when I got off the exit, I don't know what I thought I was expecting, but it sure wasn't full blown beach shanty boardwalk town. with little tiny streets packed full of rooms for rent and sunglass stands, of fried dough and penny arcades, of summertime romance and sand in the bathrooms. it's august in hampton beach, and the sidewalks were alive with it. I saw the red letters on the forever changing sign above the entrance (think scrolling marquee held over the heads of the blue man group) and I knew that I had arrived.

(scurries up to entrance) "what time do doors open?"

"they're open already. do you have a ticket?"

"for sure." (rummaging in bag)

"you don't have a camera in there, do you?"

"no. absolutely not. my notebook, datebook, see?" (camera under filofax)

"you can't bring a bag that big in here."

"well, this is what I use as my bag, you know? really, I just drove almost four hours..."

"MIKE! can she bring this in?" (hollering up staircase)

"it's like, my bag, you know?"

"yah, whatever."

"yah, you can bring it in."

"sweet. thanks." (bounds up stairs)

once I reached the top of the wide carpeted staircase, I handed over my ticket and looked around in awe. the line of sight opened up into this huge cavernous place, with insanely high rafter-ish ceilings and rows and rows of little tables and chairs. then a chest high stage, wide open in front and waiting, and then rows and rows of tables and chairs on the other side. there must have been a few hundred people there already, and no one was standing up front. I resisted the urge to go stake out a spot, mostly because I didn't want to stand there alone. I sat down with a snapple and started fielding all of the "you're where?" calls. as it got to be about an hour before the show, one couple came up and stood up dead center in front of the railing in front of the stage. two more followed suit. then me, then a handful of people on either side of us, and in under a minute there was about thirty or forty people making up the first two rows. I did the usual: front row, stage right.

ray came out to introduce sarah blasko, and for a moment I thought that I had never seen a man look so god damn sexy. regular old levi's jeans and a paper thin light blue summertime buttondown shirt with the first two buttons undone. his hair is back to long and moppy now, and he spoke quietly and clearly to thank us for coming and to rave about sarah. he exited with a grin, telling us he'd see us in a while. I went weak in my knees. sarah took the stage to rescue me from my lovestruck fantasy, and won me over instantly. I was in her grips.

sarah blasko (dot com) is a picture perfect vintage foriegn gal with kate moss cheekbones and the purest clearest voice I'd ever heard. like a bell, like channeling bjork, with a pinch of portishead here and there. she stared off into the distance in her black high neck secretary's dress and sparkly little slippers. I want my bangs to do what hers do. she carried us through the forty minute set effortlessly and beautifully, and as is par for the course ended with Perfectly Strange Choice Of Cover Tunes - this time it was goodbye yellowbrick road. seriously, put bjork in her swan dress, sitting on the stage, with a guy doing some acoustic strummy backup to keep her in the lines of the song. when are you going to come down... when are you going to land... can you hear it? I know you can. listen to the accent. go there. it's okay, I'll wait.

are you back? good. wasn't that awesome? right on.

it seemed like a hundred thousand years went by between sarah's departure and ray's landing. it was about thirty five minutes, but by the time you hydrate, urinate, and relocate, about six minutes have passed. if you're lucky there's a line for the bathroom which maybe puts you at ten, and in any case it was a half hour of torture. smalltalk with the strangers, most at their first or second show, the heads and I talking about how this is four or five, the kid that saw ray in northampton the night after the paradise, and what we're hoping to hear. the screaming and stomping ensued after about a half an hour, and the lights dropped as ray ambled out onto the stage.

the set was perfect, bone chilling, goosebump inducing, sweet smiling madness. how come was slowed down and bathed in red light, with a lot of reverb and a dirty sexy feel. like sex and a dream and a little bit of tripping but not too much. it took everything I had not to fling myself at chris and ray's feet. here's the set list, which should be pretty accurate, you know, since I got it off the stage and everything (!!!).

3 solo (in no particular order, I believe were ali, one new one, and one I can't remember but it was one we know)
jolene
narrow escape
hold you in my arms
shelter
hannah
you should belong to me
trouble
how come
forever my friend
you got (about a girl named danielle who doesn't answer the phone, the thoughts won't leave him alone - loud and screaming and perfect)

somewhere in there was a new one with this perfect line, about cracked and dusty dime store lips / I've been to hell and back / so many times / I must admit / you kind of bore me - fucking brilliance. plus a few unlisted songs, bringing the total set to a toe-curling ninety minutes.

encore:
can I stay
all the wild horses (which he didn't play, but it's on the list)

I have to pause for a moment for those of you who have not had the bliss of seeing ray live, tortured by the studio madness which is good in its own right but still not what we experience at shows. see, the first ray I heard was an instudio on kexp, which prompted the paradise show and all the ensuing multi-venue goodness. he's got this amazing, amazing powerful voice live, he hollers and strums his heart out and gets weak in the knees when the notes really get going. his voice goes into your eyes and ears and mouth and gets into your blood and bones, it runs through you like a drug, like a perfect hit of something, bringing you to your knees, making you beg for more. but there's no bad side - he makes your heart sing, he brings you down and gets you high... and now, on top of all of those things, he is hands down The Sexiest Man In America. j from the cloud room has officially been dethroned... cue the brilliant love letters. really, anyone who can write, think, and sing like that should just be worshipped in every sense of the word. as long as, you know, it's cool with them. but ray's probably pining away for sarah blasko. I'm in love with her too.

I fucking fall in love with everyone I meet. I have to stop doing that.

so the set ended, and we screamed for an encore, and I single handedly shut up the audience with a big "just SHUT UP!" when everyone kept shushing. ray giggled. and can I stay floated through the air, off the stage, and the words landed in little piles around my wounded feet. I cried for things I'd lost and for loves that slipped out of my grasp, for what I haven't felt yet, and for the feeling of clumsy crushes and the adolescent fumbling of belts, buttons and bra straps that seems to be slipping away. but I held onto the railing and was comforted by being in ray's sight for a moment, in the great scope of everything, the dave matthews shows and the trips overseas - ray lamontagne, for a moment, looked at me and smiled. this instant, the whole show - it was worth every minute of the drive, every dollar of overpriced gas, and every bead of sweat. so should he ever come across this very moment, the best I could do would be simply to say thank you. so thank you, ray, wherever your tour has you landing today. Thank You.

I didn't want to stand in the big line that formed after the show, I always feel like it's such an obligation for them to stand there, and answer silly questions, hands outstretched for autographs and moments of uncomfortable silence. so for the last time until next time, I was within ten or fifteen feet of the man who sang the song at the perfect moment - the fall of my changing, the beginning of my cocoon, which I keep shedding and reforming and shedding again. the day of crying at my desk for everything I was afraid of, and the bliss of doing it anyway. sea breeze in my hair, matt pond PA softly through the speakers, peanut m & m's after the show for the ride home, and heartbreak. sweet, tender, post-show heartbreak, aching and blowing kisses at the ocean with the setlist in one hand and the hopes for the rest of my life in the other.

sigh. I should probably go back to work now.

~vvb

Victoria Uhl