Matt Pond PA + Bitter Bitter Weeks

[13 May 2003]

By Matt Gonzales

Matt Pond PA
Bitter Bitter Weeks

What is it about Matt Pond PA that so inflames the crabby asses of supercilious rock critics? I’ve read a couple of reviews of MPPA lately where the critic did that asshole critic thing. You know what I’m talking about: they don’t like the album, either because it’s not fashionably enigmatic enough or because Jim O’Rourke didn’t produce it. Whatever the case, they make it clear that it has been nothing short of a life-sucking waste of time for them to review it, so they use the occasion to personally demean the band, as well as spit out what he or she surely thinks are just absolutely hilarious condescending witticisms.

Authors of such banal pixel waste should be forced to actually meet the people they casually disparage, and explain why they chose to spew bile their way. Faced with the moment, they’d most likely apologize clumsily, offering explanations like “See, the thing is, our editor encourages us to be funny and sarcastic,” or “I was trying to be unapologetic and salty like all of my rock critic heroes.” Whatever.

Don’t mistake me for a distraught and protective Matt Pond PA fan. MPPA make benign and occasionally moving orchestral pop music, and I think it’s alright. But you won’t catch me signing their mailing list anytime soon. Instead of fandom, what moved me to write the above was seeing them live: Whether they were self-effacingly playing their set, warmly praising the opening act, or exchanging words among themselves on stage, it was easy to see that they are a group of courteous, good-natured, hardworking, and yes, even talented, people. They don’t deserve second-rate put-downs from alleged journalists who find their music unpalatable. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Anyway, the show: The venue was…not enchanting. It was in the basement of a house-like construction ensconced in the middle of Ohio State’s fraternity district. More aggravating was the absence of alcohol, despite a 21-and-over policy. As for the audience, well, who needs an audience? There were maybe thirteen people in attendance who weren’t with the bands or the venue. Despite the discouraging conditions, opener Brian McTear started the night with a smile, fronting just an acoustic guitar and a microphone. Known for giving lush production to albums by Mazarin and Burning Brides as well as Matt Pond PA, McTear recently released his first album under the name Bitter Bitter Weeks.

McTear looked straight out of one of The Onion‘s faux news stories about stoners. He sang with a strong, high-pitch rasp, and wasn’t at all afraid to seek out the high end of the register. He supplemented his singing with technically solid guitar strumming, constructing a nice, above-average coffeehouse folk sound. He seemed to be a likeable guy, punctuating his songs with quiet and occasionally droll asides to the audience, and at one point gently admonished a girl who made a phone call while he was fixing a broken string. It was a pleasant, respectable set, but too homogeneous to wrangle my attention for much more than half a root beer (by which I was relegated to measuring time due to the heartbreaking lack of real, alcoholic beer).

After a much-too-uncommonly brief interval came Matt “for the last time, we’re not a solo act, but a band” Pond PA. The five members crammed themselves onto the stage, the drummer, bassist and guitarist hanging in the background, while cellist Eve Miller and Matt Pond (who also plays guitar) sat in chairs up front. Considering the acoustical shortcomings of the room (which could best be described as the inside of a giant shoebox) the band sounded pretty good. They seemed to be in great spirits, likely because it was the last show of their tour, and they were also unfazed by the lack of anything resembling a crowd. In fact, Pond talked about how it was better than the previous night’s show in Chicago, where they played to a barroom full of disinterested kibitzers.

After a nice rendition of “Measure 3” midway through the set, Matt Pond asked the audience if it’d be alright if he took a pee break. We were like, “Yeah, alright, sure.” So Matt went to piss, and drummer Mike Kennedy decided to make a quick phone call to his friend and bandmate from Lefty’s Deceiver (his side project), who was also supposed to play, but who was still en route. As Kennedy talked on the phone inaudibly, the sound of piss hitting toilet water echoed from the bathroom. Seconds later Pond emerged, hands dripping wet. “They’re soaked in piss,” he said.

“We could hear you all the way out here,” Eve Miller informed him.

The show then resumed, and hit its stride with a cathartic, all-cylinders-hitting performance of “The Summer is Coming”. Actually, I could have stood to hear more off of their newest album, The Nature of Maps. Actually, I could have stood to hear more, period. There’s something to be said for small shows. I had no problem finding a seat, no problem seeing, and there was hardly any smoke in the room. I could have sat there all night, but Matt Pond PA quit after about a solid hour of performing.

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