Monday, October 25, 2010

Concert Review: Ryan Montbleau Band at Martini Ranch

It's become a bit of a music journalism cliché to say that a particular act "defies categorization," but when it comes to the Ryan Montbleau Band, it's an apt description. Unless you're the type of person who likes to employ five or six hyphens to string together a handful of disparate genres in an attempt to nail down someone's sound, you'd have a hard time pigeonholing Montbleau into any specific category of music. At their show last night at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale, Montbleau and his five bandmates veered seamlessly from folk to funk, from reggae to alt-country, from straightforward rock to jazz and even hints of zydeco.

It's this all-over-the-map approach that makes RMB's live show - not to mention their latest album, Heavy on the Vine - so entertaining. It's just kinda difficult to describe what it sounds like. Imagine if Maroon 5's Adam Levine joined a band that didn't suck, and you'd at least be in the ballpark. Montbleau can certainly pull off the white-boy soul sound that Levine has built a career on, and on occasion, he does, but he's not content to stop there. Thanks to a backing band that includes a drummer, keyboardist, fiddle player, bass player (who alternated between stand-up and electric) and  an additional percussionist (bongos, mostly), singer/guitarist Montbleau is able to genre-hop like few others can.

The band opened with "Slippery Road," a bouncy, funky, mid-tempo number that immediately filled the dance floor despite (or perhaps because of?) verses that feature a melody and cadence nearly identical to "Here Comes Santa Claus." The crowd - a sizable contingent for a Sunday evening show - appeared to be familiar with Montbleau's catalog, singing along and dancing throughout the set. Highlights included the reggae-tinged "Songbird" and the revival-tent-worthy gospel energy of "I Can't Wait."

In a time when so many artists aim for the lowest common denominator, it's refreshing to see a band that's willing to take chances. RMB isn't afraid to challenge their audience, and perhaps even more surprisingly, their audience seems to appreciate them all the more for it. It might not be a formula for fleeting, multi-platinum success, but it's a long-term strategy that cultivates an extremely loyal fan base that will buy every album, come to every show and spend money at the merch booth. Maybe some of those cookie-cutter bands should take note...

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