Words by jenkins
Videos by jenkins (except as noted)
There aren’t very many artists whose catalogues I know by heart – and I don’t just mean “heard all of the songs and have all of the CDs”, but “know every word and memorized every breakdown and transition”. For me, Matt Nathanson is one of of those artists. Even though he toured extensively on his 2007 release Some Mad Hope, I somehow managed to miss seeing Matt headline a show since his dual-headliner with Carbon Leaf at Mississippi Nights in 2006 – incidentally, the last show I saw there before the venue closed its doors for good. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to hear that Matt would be coming back to Saint Louis again on a headlining tour, this time stopping at The Pageant in support of his new album Modern Love.
For whatever reason, the balcony of The Pageant was not open for this show so all seating was first-come, first-served general admission with most of the room being standing room only. Doors opened at 7 and the show started at 8, so we decided to show up at The Pageant at around 6:30 in hopes of getting a decent spot in line and getting a place to sit inside. We absolutely needed to be able to sit, so I went in armed with $60 in case I needed to buy someone out of their table/bar stool. This, thankfully, was not necessary – we arrived just in time to be admitted into the Halo Bar, and they let those folks into the venue about 15 minutes before all of the poor schmucks standing outside. There were a good number of people in front of us in the bar, and so most of the seating was taken once we were inside – most of the seating, except for one section that was pretty much wide open. We made our way over to this open area and scored four seats against the rail. I felt pretty good about it up until our friend arrived – she figured out almost immediately that we had managed to score really sweet seats… in the under 21 section of the room. Shit. Oh well. The rest of the seating areas were pretty full, and a seat is a seat – so in the underage section we sat.
Opening for Matt on this leg of the tour were indie rockers Scars on 45. A 5-piece band from the UK, their biggest break to date came in the form of a single that was used on the soundtrack for TV show Grey’s Anatomy. Having never seen a single episode of Grey’s, this didn’t get me very far. I wasn’t worried about it, though; I have historically really enjoyed all of the openers that Matt has toured with, so I didn’t really do much homework here and just went in under the assumption that I’d enjoy myself.
And, I did.
Scars played an opening set full of material that I mostly did not know but really enjoyed. They played a 7 or so song set that was tight, energetic, and well-rehearsed. Maybe it was the vocal melodies created by the alternate male/female lead vocals, maybe it was the catchy hooks and songwriting, or maybe it was my soft spot for female singers with accents – regardless, at the end of their set I was a new fan.
While their performance was great, I was equally impressed with their overall demeanor. I recall singer Aimee saying during their set that this, their first night on the road with Matt, was the biggest crowd they had played for as a band thus far. They seemed awe-struck to be performing for us all, and at points appeared shocked that so many people came out early to see them play. In between songs they were friendly and chatty with the crowd and seemed genuinely grateful to be a part of the tour. Finally, Aimee pulled out a camera and stood toward the back of the stage to take a picture of the crowd in the room, and asked that all of us tag ourselves in the picture when she uploaded it to Facebook. Apparently they’ve been doing this at all of their shows, and it’s a pretty awesome way to get the fans involved.
Finally, I was able to witness a neat moment off stage post-set. From our seats in the kiddy section of the room, I could clearly see the band members just off to the side of the stage. They were huddled around each other, laughing, hugging, and high-fiving each other like they had just won the lottery. Later on we were able to meet a few of the band members, and they all seemed to be a little overwhelmed with the size of the line of people waiting for autographs, as if they were not expecting to have so many fans in the room. Overall, a great show and a band of really normal people who love to play music.
I only managed to get videos of two of their songs, but I think they were arguably the two best songs of the set:
Heart On Fire:
Give Me Something:
After a short break, the house lights went dark leaving nothing but the glowing outline of the a neon heart on the stage backdrop. The Superman theme song started to to play over the PA as Matt and company came on stage and started the set with their standard All Night Noise opener, Mercy.
Mercy is (in my opinion) one of the best songs on the new record, and true to the album recording started off with a little audience clap-along session to get the crowd involved. After this, Matt teased a portion of Florence + The Machine’s Dog Days as a segue into Pretty the World (one of the few songs in the set that is from Matt’s extensive catalogue of older tunes – the majority of the set was from 2011’s Modern Love or 2007’s Some Mad Hope).
After this, they played a few more new songs, including the radio-friendly title track from Modern Love and the quiet acoustic song Kept. Modern Love takes Matt a little out of his normal element – normally playing a guitar for every song, this song finds Matt armed with just a microphone and a hand held shaker. While he was certainly out of his usual comfort zone, he danced around on stage for the whole song rather than just standing at the mic. While lots of guitar playing singers look visibly awkward when they perform sans instrument, Matt was having a great time and didn’t have any issues keeping himself occupied. I am, however, still waiting for Matt to explain how modern love is like a taco truck.
Kept is another favorite of mine from the new album, and shows Matt’s songwriting at its dark and moody best. I have been hooked on this song since the first time I heard it.
Another older song – Curve of the Earth – was up next, followed by the 80’s-depeche-mode inspired Queen of (K)nots, complete with snippets of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love interspersed within. This song is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine – I’m pretty sure that I’m not supposed to like it, but I was looking forward to it anyway. Guitarist Aaron Tap was at his finest here with lots of great fills and riffs filling up some of the empty space in the verses. I sadly didn’t get to tape this, but youtube user KorrinSpalding1 managed to get a great video of it.
Queen of (K)nots / Tainted Love (video from youtube user KorrinSpalding1):
Matt followed this up with two more older tunes, starting with his cover of Laid (complete with crowd sing along, and what felt like the entire room screaming the infamous 3rd line “But she only comes when she’s on top”). After talking to the crowd for a little bit about the next song and explaining that yes, he knows it sounds just like Rick Springfield’s Jesse’s Girl, Matt and company played Princess, seamlessly weaving back and forth between segments of Princess and Jesse’s Girl.
Wrapping up the first part of the set were Kiss Quick from the new album and Detroit Waves from Some Mad Hope. I am generally confused by Kiss Quick – a lot of people who wrote reviews for this album single this song out as the best song on the album, and to be honest I don’t really get it. It’s certainly not a bad song, I don’t hate it, and I even enjoyed it live, but it doesn’t even rank in the top 50% of Modern Love for me. Matt, however, was obviously really crazy about this tune, and he talked for quite a bit before starting the song about how much he loved it and even said that even though you aren’t supposed to have a favorite child, it was his favorite of all his children on Modern Love.
I’ve always liked Detroit Waves, and as usual it was four and a half badass minutes of Matt and company showing off their rock-and-roll side, with Matt sneaking in some of Katy Perry’s Fireworks near the end of the song. Aaron again went above and beyond on guitar during this song, especially with the effects he used on his contributions during the breakdown before the final chorus.
After a very brief equipment change, the band stripped down to all acoustic/unplugged instruments for a short 3 song acoustic set. I have seen Matt – either solo or with the band – probably a dozen times in the last ten years, and I’m pretty sure that this acoustic set was the greatest thing I have ever seen at one of his shows. I would love to see the full band put on an entire set in this setting sometime, it was absolutely the highlight of the night for me.
Matt and Aaron started the acoustic set with with a cover of Prince’s Little Red Corvette. It’s certainly not easy to recreate the funk of the original with two acoustic guitars, but it was obvious that they put a lot of thought into the arrangement (especially vocal harmonies), as opposed to just strumming guitars and singing the words.
Little Red Corvette:
The rest of the band came back out for an acoustic rendition of Bare. This has never been a favorite song of mine, but the acoustic treatment was an improvement over the standard arrangement for me. Sing Me Sweet was next, and for me this was the highlight of the night. Fantastic in so many ways, and this was the first time they played it as a band. Nothing more to say, just watch the video.
Sing Me Sweet:
One last run of mostly new songs rounded out the end of the set, including Room At The End Of The World, Wedding Dress, Drop To Hold You, Faster, and Come On Get Higher. Room At The End Of The World was the best of this group of tunes for me, and it included bits of I’ll Stop The World And Melt With You and The End Of The World As We Know It throughout. I don’t particularly care for the album cut of Wedding Dress, but the live performances are always enjoyable. Drop To Hold You is a good enough song, and the performance sounded great, but any time I hear it I can’t help but think that the inspiration for the music was something along the lines of “Where The Streets Have No Name? Yeah, I want one of those”. Matt had to give another little lesson to the crowd on how to clap in rhythm (something that this particular crowd wasn’t very good at by the end of the night) before Faster, the first single off of Modern Love. The crowd was really into this and sang and clapped along to the entire song. Finally, the band closed the set with Matt’s biggest radio breakthrough to date, Come On Get Higher. While this is certainly Matt’s most well-known/commercially successful song, this was kind of a weird song to end a show with. Come On Get Higher is a slow and sensitive love song, and I think I was expecting a send-off that was a little more… loud and obnoxious.
Finally, the band returned from a short encore break to play one final song – All We Are, the album closer from Some Mad Hope and one of the very few uplifting songs in Matt’s arsenal, and at more or less 10:45 the show was over.
All We Are:
In spite of everything that was great about this show, I do have a couple of complaints (minor as they may be).
First, the venue curfew was clearly posted on signs all over the room as 11:30, and yet this show – part of the “All Night Noise” tour – was over by 10:45. I know that “All Night Noise” isn’t a literal sales pitch, and I absolutely understand that the curfew is different at every venue, but the night ended earlier than I had expected – especially considering the length of Matt’s sets on prior headlining tours.
Second, it felt to me like there were a lot of Matt fan favorites missing from the set. I know the numbers don’t really support this – while most of the set was from Modern Love and Some Mad Hope, there were plenty of songs from Beneath These Fireworks as well – but for whatever reason, it felt like a lot of the classic older material was MIA. Don’t get me wrong, this is an album tour, so I was certainly expecting to hear most of Modern Love. Plus, Matt has been touring on his extensive back catalogue for years and years, so I also can see where it’s more exciting for a performer to load the set list up with the newer fresh material than with songs that you have been touring on for over ten years. That being said, there are tons of classic Matt fan favorites that didn’t make the cut.
Playing for another twenty minutes and adding just a few more of the fan favorites like Answering Machine or Suspended would have killed any complaints I had about what was an already great concert. Like I said – relatively minor complaints, all things considered.
So, that’s that. The mix sounded great, the crowd knew when to be quiet and when to be loud, Matt was full of stories and funny banter with the crowd, and the band’s current lineup is more solid and cohesive that it has ever been. Matt’s concerts have always been some of my favorite shows to catch, and all in all this evening did not disappoint.
Scars on 45:
Burn the House Down
Heart On Fire
Give Me Something
(Dog Days) ! >
Pretty the World
Curve of the Earth
Queen of (K)nots
(Tainted Love) *
(Jesse’s Girl) $
Little Red Corvette @
Sing Me Sweet
Room at the End of the World
(The End of the World) ?
Drop to Hold You
Come On Get Higher
All We Are
! Florence and the Machine
* Soft Cell
$ Rick Springfield
& Katy Perry