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Matt the Electrician

(17 Jan 2003: The Railyard Condominiums — Austin, Texas)


Come Into My House


House concerts are apparently a bona fide phenomenon. Everyone from National Public Radio to the New York Times has yammered on about the subject, trying to see it as some sort of cipher for alienation from commercialism, one last gasp in the hopes that fewer of us will bowl alone and spend more of our precious spare time reading Dave Eggers with a motley group of amateur literati.


My thoughts on the subject of the disintegration of community are mixed. On the one hand, it would be nice if the world’s injustice would inspire more people to rise up in tidal rage and quash the powerful few who crapshoot with our collective misery. On the other hand, I think that people have quite justly eschewed categories that attempt to net humans in dumb breadth. I am not worried about the state of the human community. People can be cool; people can make you want to smack them with bricks. I can’t see what house concerts have to do with it.


The basic concept of the house concert is to turn your home into a venue for a band and make up whatever rules you wish for the guest list, cost and liquor. That’s not too different from having a house party with live music, though it seems to be intended for consumption by the general rabble. Variations range from formal shushing affairs with rows of folding chairs as straight as a razored line of coke to spontaneous off-the-cuff post-gig jam sessions that involve asking fans during your last song if anyone wants you to come over to jam in their living room. Some house concerts, like the Rouse House folk series, have been folking up living rooms for over a decade. Although house concerts have apparently experienced a resurgence (or were just picked up to fill empty media space), the idea has been around as far back in time as I care to look. One of my wage taskmasters told me that in San Francisco in the early ‘70s he regularly attended a series held in some hip gay couple’s medium pimpin’ flat. So apparently there exists a long-standing tradition of making the personal public in terms of live music.


I have to admit that the idea sounded a bit atrocious to me at first. Personally, I think the anonymity of strangers is more comfort than curse. Of course I have so many social phobias that, in order to go to anything that resembles a party, I need to be drunk enough to start sounding British. This house concert, featuring local songwriter Matt the Electrician, was held in these expensive design whore condos that were easy on the eyes, and full of swanky tile, fountains and plants that looked like they’d make good artillery camouflage for Columbian anti-government insurgents.


Matt the Electrician couldn’t be more suited to the concept. Infinitely approachable, Matt’s music and personality sieve a combustibly homey kind of charm. Highlights of the evening included between song readings from an ancient book of elephant jokes and Matt telling the pratfall anecdotes that have gone into his own quirky musical snares of the world. Many of the people there seemed to be diehard fans, yelling out obscure covers or songs for which Matt had to dust off and pull out his cheat sheet trapper keeper.


As a musician, Matt is criminally undiscovered. If I reigned and all were right, “These Boots” would play on every radio station in the middle of the night for anyone left driving on the road. It’s one of the loneliest and most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard, and I’m the hardest case when it comes to that bullshit. “Little Hands”, a song written for his daughter and played on the banjo-lele (which he purchased on e-bay after composing a few songs on his daughter’s toy ukulele), had a lightness perfectly in sync with the evening’s beer-massaged levity. Even Matt’s cover songs seemed like he could have written them. “Your Love” by the Outfield sounded like Nick Drake had written it, with the exception of the hard rock howl at the end added to break up the eerie beauty. Even more unsettling, he managed to fill Rick Springfield ‘s “Jessie’s Girl” with a sincerity that it never had. Matt is the sort of musician who refuses the conventions he could easily master. He is an impish wiseass, tripping every moment up in his sense of humor rather than basking in the moody angst that is the perennial weakness of most singer-songwriters. Matt played for over two hours. From my swatch of floor pillow, it could have been one fourth that. I never once got bored or restless. Given that my synapses are like rice krispies, that’s as much of a compliment as I can muster without proposing.


The overall vibe, with people shouting requests or matching wits with Matt in snarky repartee (no small feat), put me an unusually quill-free state of mind. Our hosts for the evening, Corey and Mickey, couldn’t have been more gracious, accommodating, or kind. While I would have spent the whole time guarding my music collection with a bayonet, they managed to make everyone feel like they were actually specifically invited with the only obligation being a good time. Truth be told, if house concerts are a big deal, than my ass can magically filter third world tap water. But not everything has to change the world, signify something greater, or express some poetic longing. After a wonderful evening in defenseless pleasure with a kindly and sated mob, I was willing to take it as is, for what it’s worth, and not feel short-changed.

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