A friend of mine had an extra ticket to a Matt Nathanson concert last night, and it was’t until I got there that I realized a)how badly I needed a concert b)how liking Matt Nathanson is a really, really good idea.
You won’t find trendsetters at his shows, you won’t find the kind of people who flock to Pitchfork darlings with stupid names and laptop performances. You will find music listeners who are engaged, connected, and full of spirit for life and physical passion, qualities Nathanson sweats from every pore.
Homie’s recorded nine albums. That’s gotta be hard.
He was unbelievably entertaining. I saw him play acoustic once, maybe six years ago, and getting to check him out in front of a live band was a different experience, although not necessarily a worse one. Fortunately it didn’t interrupt his intimacy with the audience, and he told the audience what the songs were about before he played them in the majority of instances. His preface ranged from simple – “This is about fucking” – to elaborate backstory, like when he launched into “Bent” after telling the story of a girl he once “knew” and their attempts at “rekindling.”
“You turn, turn, turn, turning me on
Like a slow fire burn
Know that it’s wrong
Still I run, run, run, run right into you ”
Oh look, says audience member in their head. This guy has experiences, and he writes about them. I’ve long believed Matt Nathanson is an expert in biting, bitter honesty, tossing out lines that cut straight to the intersection of desire and despair. I could see where people would throw him the “bro” category, given all the sex-inspired talk and acoustic strumming, but poetry is poetry is poetry.
“And I’ll forget about you long enough
To forget why I need to”
I was particularly peaked when he told us certain songs were penned after hearing a friend say a simple sentence or so – “I’m nobody’s girlfriend,” for example. Good songwriting, while springing from the depths of the soul and manufactured in creative consciousness, does not have to run hand-in-hand with pain, pleasure, discomfort, anger, or any other particular emotion. Simple discovery, and curiousity, can do the trick, if said writer is willing to peel back layers of the mind to tap into what’s unseen, and often unsaid.
As for the musicianship, one of my favorite moments in the show was after an acoustic duo bit with Matt and his guitar player, Aaron. The rest of the band joined on stage, but the bass player brought a stand-up, the keyboard player an accordion, and the drummer emerged from the back-stage corner drummers are typically confined to, and took a brush and a stick to a djembe at the front of the stage. Sweet! They played a couple songs that way, but only after a jam session of La Bamba.
I was not close enough to see *what* instruments they had, though I continue to notice more and more about what gear is used when (I was close to criticizing the DJ at a karaoke outing the other night, he was running a cheap mic through a huge PA and the balance was a disaster, but the important thing is that I noticed).
I should also mention the delightful opener, Rachel Platten, who sang gorgeous, played piano like a fiend, and exhilarated the audience with an adorable pep. I wanted to hang out with her, especially after a surprisingly soaring cover of “Gin and Juice” that made me want to be 16 and riding in cars with illegal drivers and boys I had crushes on. I hope to hear more from her in the future.
All in all, I was thrilled to see some great live music, from an artist I’ve long respected. To be sure, this is his first appearance on this blog and for that I am sorry. Hopefully this review, and corresponding inspiration, makes up for it.