Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Matt Keating at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/14/10

This could have been a savagely cynical alternative to the glut of lame Valentine’s shows – but that would have been easy, and predictable. Along with all the wit and the double entendres, there’s a bitterness in Matt Keating’s songwriting that often boils over into rage, sometimes repentant but sometimes not. Yet his Sunday evening show at the Rockwood wasn’t about that. Counterintuitively, backed by his wife Emily Spray on harmony vocals and the equally estimable Jon Graboff on pedal steel, Keating offered hope against hope. It made a good counterpart to the Chelsea Symphony’s alternative Valentine’s Day concert earlier in the day several blocks west.

The trio opened with the gorgeously sardonic anthem Candy Valentine, a big audience request that he doesn’t often play – it’s sort of his Saint Stephen (Grateful Dead fans will get the reference). Switching to piano, Keating evocatively painted an unromantic Jersey tableau in tribute to the late Danny Federici, the vastly underrated original organist in Springsteen’s E Street Band. Back on guitar, Keating threw out another pensive tableau, then picked up the pace with the decidedly unrepentant,upbeat country song Wrong Way Home. The high point of the night, and one of the few moments that actually wasn’t a surprise, was Lonely Blue. It built slowly, ambient Graboff versus incisive Keating guitar, Spray channeling Lucinda Williams but with twice the range and none of the alcohol – she was that good. The song’s unhinged alienation rose as the instruments built tensely to a sledgehammer crescendo that transcended the presence of just the two instruments and voices onstage – Keating is known for fiery, intense performances and this was characteristic. They brought it down after that, closing with the warily optimistic Louisiana, a standout track from Keating’s 2008 Quixotic album, as well as 2007’s Summer Tonight, pedal steel enhancing the song’s bucolic sway. Keating’s characters seldom get what they want – this time they got a little and the audience, silent and intent between songs, got a lot.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Matt Keating – Summer Tonight

Nashville gothic from one of the world’s foremost under-the-radar rockers. Typical NYC story: big in Europe, gets rave reviews (usually something akin to “if Elvis Costello still rocked, he’d be Matt Keating“) but in the US he’s still a cult artist with a small if devoted fan base. This album should change that. Well-conceived, well-executed and particularly well-timed, this could be the stealth weapon that puts him all over NPR and gets some big Hollywood movie placements. It’s a hard turn right into Americana, done with good taste and a genuine appreciation for Carter Family meets the Velvet Underground but there’s way more A.P. and Mother Maybelle in here than there is Lou and crew. Crisp fingerstyle acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, pedal steel and harmonica serve as the instrumentation. Aptly titled, it’s an album of nocturnes, the perfect backdrop to a murder conspiracy worked out at dusk in midsummer over half-warm bloody marys on a picnic table just off the highway somewhere on the way to Milledgeville.

Curiously, while menace has been Keating’s stock in trade throughout his career, there’s less of it here than on his other albums. The album’s opening track, Who Knew, and then its title track, both feature Keating’s wife, the terrifically talented Emily Spray (who wrote Union Square for Laura Cantrell). Her honeyed, rockabilly-inflected vocals add warmth and depth to the surprisingly upbeat feel of these songs. Trouble returns in a hurry, though, with Waiting for Memories, an achingly bitter midtempo hit that longs for amnesia – or anything that will bring it on – to erase the pain of the past. The album’s high point, No Further South is arguably the best 9/11 eulogy written by any songwriter up to this point. Over a haunting, minor key acoustic guitar melody, Keating perfectly evokes the dread and the surreal feel of the days after the towers were detonated: “Wrote your name in the ashes on that uptown bus/In my nose and my lashes, God have mercy on us.”

Though replete with fire-and-brimstone Biblical imagery, the rest of the album is surprisingly upbeat and hopeful: Keating seems to have made an uneasy truce with the demons which rear their heads throughout his back catalog. The gorgeously rustic Down There, the straight-ahead country ballad Wish I Was Gold (which sounds like a Dolly Parton classic from 1970) and the resigned, contemplative Lord Jesus could all be Sirius radio hits in on their Americana, country and AAA channels (and would all have been big AM hits if this was 1976  – and that’s a compliment). There’s also a bonus cut featuring a duet with Patty Griffin which is the best thing she’s done in years. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-inflected songwriters like Ron Sexsmith and Rhett Miller as wellas fans of potent lyricists like Graham Parker, Richard Thompson and the aforementioned Mr. Costello. And the Carter Family and maybe even the Velvets. Albums are available in stores, at shows and online. For those who might fear that Keating might have gone soft with this one, fear not: his next album will be a rock record and if the tracks he’s played live are any indication, it’ll be as dark as anything else he’s done.

April 29, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment