Matt Nathanson: Hope for Tomorrow, Alt for Today

That Matt Nathanson has hips that take no breaks.

And he completely won me over last night. From the broad perspective I’d gained by hearing “Come on Get Higher” on the radio a few times, I was sure he was a pretty boy with a guitar in the vein of, let’s say, Rob Thomas in his solo years. One night in a room with Matt and a sold-out House of Blues full of his best friends has convinced me that he is about as far from that as possible: he’s actually the second coming of Rob Thomas in his Matchbox Twenty years.

Matt Nathanson - Modern Love

Look how sweet he is.

Here’s why I use that comparison. I’ve always felt that the reason Matchbox Twenty enjoyed the enormous success they deserved (with their debut album achieving certified Diamond sales) is because the lead singer and his lyrics were totally swoon-worthy for the chicks, but the band rocked hard and had the respect of men; and with their cross-generational appeal, nobody had any reservations about listening to this band. I believe that Matt Nathanson fits that mold. The female fans aren’t hard to capture when you have such a cute beard and you like to spend your days crooning about love to the tune of your own nylon strings. The boys will sign on for the hard-hitting songs that, to my delight, apparently pervade his body of work, and for his hilarious crowd interaction. Getting the old and the young to come together at table… well, that falls out of a classic pop sensibility in the songwriting.

Matt’s understanding of his diverse musical roots was built into his show. He and his lead guitarist managed a spot-on cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”. When playing expandable bridges, he gave nods to past and present influences alike by sampling Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Cee-Lo Green, Demi Lovato, and others, always bringing the crowd along with him. When the whole band was in acoustic mode for a two-song mini-set, Matt decided to scrap whatever was supposed to be the back half in favor of attempting an impromptu rendition of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” just because he had heard the crowd singing along with it in the set break after the opener. None of his band had rehearsed this song – it’s not in their repertoire – but they played the entire thing, including all lyrics (with full crowd support!), and the lead guitarist was clever enough to put down his instrument, pick up something electric, and completely nail the major solo. It was incredible.

Part of what made that possible, and what makes Matt’s music so much better than I expected, is that he has a band. I have a sort of superstition that I’ve built up overt ime where I avoid artists who play under their own name, because that’s what you do when you “make your own music” and use session players and touring musicians instead of a band who has input into the material. Matt had a bassist, drummer, keyboardist, and guitarist, each of whom played interesting parts. They were not collectively relegated to simple background material designed to put the focus on lyrical melodies and not take too long to write. When the band went into acoustic mode, the bassist went to string bass (which was totally sick on Whitesnake) and the percussionist walked out to the front of the stage and whipped out an everloving djembe.

The inter-song banter was lengthy, made worthwhile by the fact that it was always entertaining and by the full two hours that Matt spent on stage, accounting for only a two-minute turnaround before the encore. He discussed the suggestive nature of a crab singing “Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter”, talked about what it’s like to wake up on Sunday morning next the person you love and realize you’re lying on their devil tail, and dedicated a song to Kim Kardashian’s ass. And I was serious about his hips. The man has a dance-happy lower half, and his legs were wigglin’ and booty was shakin’ through all of his own songs. He even used hip thrusts to help the audience time difficult clapping patterns.

It’s hard for me to remember exactly what I heard, because I was unfamiliar with all of his material before I heard it live last night. (Wikipedia tells me he has seven albums!) But I know that every time I tried to imagine Rob Thomas singing the words, I was pleased. Matt’s voice is a little higher, and in truth his words are less bitter – if he has a “Push”, I’d love to hear it – but his sound is just as edgy and he has the band to back it up. I think he suffers from the fact that there is no “alt” scene anymore, so he gets listed as a pop rock artist and doesn’t get played on as wide a range of stations. But he should.

Rob Thomas: Before and After

See, even his former self and bandmates are ashamed to look upon him now.

The bottom line is that this guy is one Santana collaboration away from making me a life-long fan. A song co-written with Mick Jagger à la “Disease” wouldn’t hurt either. He just needs to deny the bright light that will someday call him toward the cozy-as-a-cloud profitability of Adult Contemporary music, try not to ditch his band, and avoid becoming a hollow shell of his former self. Because, you know, I know this one guy who did that.

Dan and Brian from Earn This now have a film review site and podcast:

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