My Night with Scott Matthew

If you’ve not heard of Scott Matthew, I’m quite confident you will. I saw him for the first time last night, and am mad that the person who pointed me in his direction didn’t let me know he was performing sooner than a few hours before the last show. I had to wait almost a month to see him.

In the ensuing month, I waxed & waned between whether or not I would be impressed. I am extremely picky when it comes to seeing live performances, and as a singer (granted a has been & Karaoke slut with nodes on his vocal chords) it is not always easy for me to see people perform who do not completely enthrall me. Think Antony & the Johnsons or Nina Hagen. I like a show. The maxim is: Astound Me.

While I enjoy & thrill to acoustic folk music, and seeing Michelle Shocked at the 9:30 Club in DC, along with most of the hardcore punk icons, was a highlight in the formative years of my emerging musical tastes. I realize now after seeing the show last night what makes a truly incredible show. It takes a personality, and a talent that is able to transport us. One that is able to take the simplest of artforms, a few instruments, a voice, and a personality to deliver the sincerest form of the art.

It is very hard with such bare tools to really deliver emotion. However Scott Matthew delivers. In fact, it is easy for me to prefer the unproduced live, and simple raw emotion, over the tracks that appear on the ShortBus soundtrack. I sing, have sung, and know that to take a voice and a few instruments & turn that into an experience is a daunting task.

What seperates this poet from any old coffee house hippie, is the fact that he can draw on some very serious lyrics that almost defy one interpertation, prefering the polyphonic over the simple and saccherine solution that our record labels want us to consume. His interpertations, phrasing, and heartbreaking vocals are in themselves what I think most of the people who were in attendance came to see.

Folk music by definition is usually poetic, but in the case of the 70’s heyday, it can be almost rudimentary. That this has been transformed recently by the neo-folk singers is nothing more than an indication of a generation at odds with the norm, and inherently more complex than its predeccessors. This is not to say that Bob Dylan and the greats aren’t still relevant, and that their esteemed work is not still valuable today. Indeed, it is a measure more of the industry, that young artists can still emerge from this and produce things that aren’t readily pidgeonholed into one type or category and then milked for all it is worth.

Perhaps it is just generational, and I am an old man, who doesn’t get boy bands, Britney’s, or whatever the latest trend in music is… or is it that there is a large sub-culture of people who do not intend or even want to listen to music that could play on the radio, not that I ever listen to it. The iPod, and the delivery of music to people that is customized is a revolution. One which Scott Matthew and any label that would sign him would want to capitilize on.

Taking Tori Amos, Antony & the Johnsons, Me’shell N’Degocello, et al…with their cult followings and ability to continue to sell records, singles, and create mass adoration in a group of disparate peoples who probably wouldn’t liked to be lumped in with their other fans even – and yet they come together over a lyric, a feeling, a mood, and some considerable talent.

Scott Matthew is just this sort of a singer. There is something dark or haunting, but to reduce it to that would be almost doing a diservice. Since even in his choice of covers at the show {“(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” by the Fifth Dimension} was telling. In the way Judy Collins would have sung a song that was ancient, Scott interperted this in a way I’m quite sure the songwriter would have approved of, Tony Macauly probably never dreamed someone could infuse this song with its intended meaning as I witnessed.

This meta-referential and completely unique striking of what was in the original at best a sugar coated confection, was brilliant. Made me wish that Scott would sing the entire Carpenter songbook, and give it the meaning that poor Karen could never attain from hiding from herself and the world.

Yet in each song, and his duets with Raven Mayhem, there shone through much more than the morose or morbidly intellectual. Indeed it was thoughtful without being trite, deliciously impressive without being egotistical, and like a warm bath relaxing and familiar. If Antony is etheral then Scott is the earthier musky version. Able to convey a host of emotions and make you think, long after you’ve left his presence, able to catch a whiff through the day, and be transported.

I thought I understood the songs, or why I liked them from listening to them on his MySpace page, but it wasn’t until I was there, that I realized what a fool I’d been. How I’d missed certain things. Seeing a live performance of something you’ve only listened to for a month, is liberating. You see certain things, like tics the musician has while he is performing that you adore, or just his inflection and timber which in person are much more sublime than any recording can capture.

Since I have an uncanny knack for seeing the next big thing, and I do not say this to be bragadocious, but since my opinons are sought after so often – I’ve decided that I will tell no one about this gem. Instead, I’d like to see him perform many more times in intimate settings, before he transitions to the larger venues, and the public at large. Yet that would be a ruse on my part, since there was a healthy amount of people there last night. A good portion of whom left before the Raven Mayhem finale. Which was a crime really, since she was incredible. I’m sure it was because it was a Sunday night, and some of us have to work.

I’m glad Raven said that she is at Zebulon so much she gets mail there, I will definitely be back to my old ‘hood to catch her there.

I wish Scott Matthew the best, and hope for all the success he can handle, and enough wisdom to keep him grounded in making such beautiful music. I don’t have to wish a large fanbase on him, for that he already has probably achieved via the movie his music appeared in. Let’s just hope that there will be more shows, and more music, and more bittersweet sounds.

I was truly astounded by this show, and know that when you see him, you will be too.