Reviews

Matt the Electrician

Terry Sawyer
Matt the Electrician

Matt the Electrician

City: Austin, Texas
Venue: The Cactus Café
Date: 2003-07-03

Photo credit: Jason King
I have this great housesitting gig in the middle of nowhere. But, unfortunately, the rural isolation inflames my latent misanthropy. Silence is addictive, as are country skies at night and the almost post-apocalyptic absence of other humans. Don't get me wrong, I love people -- in shot glass doses. I tell you this only because during my time in the country, not even public orgies can drag me from my recluse fortress. Catching a live show from Matt the Electrician is one of the few, notable exceptions to that rule. Despite the packed crowd, Matt still managed to keep a dorm room intimacy about the show, sharing anecdotes and speaking to a couple hundred people as if we were all just drinking chums swapping yarns. With any other singer-songwriter I would find this recurrent banter an awful intrusion, like being trapped with an old person who refuses to stop laundry-listing the gruesome failures of his death's door body. But Matt is a songwriter for whom convention has little place; consequently his roughshod approach to performance is part of his impish charm. He'd probably also get away with less if he didn't have such an incredible voice, sweet with depth but always pushed to a fray, which gives his songs this breaking beauty that catches in your throat and at the top of your stomach. Seeing musicians that you love is always better in the full-on hum of a standing room throng. Most artists' egos are thinner than paper placemats, and I can imagine that nothing cuts quite like playing to a crowd that could comfortably lay on top of you. This night Matt seemed wholly energized by the wall-to-wall fans, belting out the pop mastery of his latest album, Made for Working, like he was discovering the songs for the first time. One of Matt's greatest achievements as an artist is his ability to consistently use humor as an emotional device without sacrificing the songs' craftsmanship. Matt is inarguably hilarious, but it's a sense of humor that, unlike many other snarky songwriters, doesn't evaporate upon repeated listens. It was one of the best live shows I've ever seen. "These Boots" is still one of the most humbly beautiful love songs I've ever heard, teetering on the edge of country balladry in its live incarnation. "Diaryland" sounded like a jook joint hoedown. Matt then switched genres and strapped on his banjolele (a hybrid equal parts Django Reinhardt and Mattel) to belt out the sweet ode for his daughter "Little Hands" and the old timey "Train", which has a wonderfully unhinged momentum to it. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that Matt performs with back up vocalist, Seela, a woman whose pipes are jaw-dropping, quasi-human even. When she stepped up to mic to howl out "Sunny Side of the Street", it was like listening to Billie Holiday smolder in some clapboard swamp pub. Not to mention she and Matt have the best stage rapport, full of subtle, catting bitchery that borders on affection. Matt ended the first set with a cover of the Ed's Redeeming Qualities song, "Lawn Darts", a litany of sad accidents involving children that you can't help but laugh at. It was a fitting closer: flippant irony embedded in pitch perfect pop. It's very rare that I leave a show joyful to be alive. Even some of the bands I most admire fail to fill me with the same sense of smart-assed upliftment that I glean from seeing Matt the Electrician play. It's an odd joy that an asshole like myself is continually unsettled by. If singer-songwriting was like Robot Wars, Matt the Electrician could wipe the floor with Conor Oberst, Cass McCombs and Ben Lee. But it's not, so I'll have to content myself with living in the home city of a great unknown.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image