I saw Matthew Sweet the first time he was touring behind Girlfriend; and believe me, we were both oh so much younger and lighter then. But since then, he has compiled an impressive body of musical work, largely ignored by the populace, and I have designed a lot of buildings…that largely haven’t gotten me anyplace, either.
And on the Altered Beast tour, my bud Rory and I saw him at Shank Hall, and weaseled our way into the meet and greet.
Hey, now; my history with Rory is what a more circumspect biographer would call ‘checkered’; and my history with Shank Hall is the same. I have written before about doing some college concert load-ins, and they were at the behest of one Peter J; I may have also mentioned a drunken episode putting together his entertainment center. Since then, I have seen countless bands at his club (named in his single coolest moment, after a club in the Spinal Tap movie; in recognition, Spinal Tap played there) and because Peter and I were never what you would call friends, I respect the bands he brings in. Hey, i saw the Mekons there several times. I never asked Peter to comp me; not because I really give a shit about his club, but because I know the bands need the covers.
Rory and I got tickets, and Zelmo slipped the chains of hell to join us, and a lovely waitron squoze us into a few extra seats RIGHT THE HELL UP FRONT. Hey, it’s only a 300 person club, but still, this was our POV:
He has been touring in support of the 20th anniversary of the epochal Girlfriend album, and so they played the whole thing. While the setlist was therefore kind of not surprising, I will tell you that FUCK but those opening three songs are as good as anything ever recorded. My compatriots and I discussed, briefly; lightning and inspiration and the stars aligning. Since those albums and shows, I have been a huge zomfan of Matthew Sweet, and have loved at least parts of all his albums since….
BUT. It is easy to forget how good, how tight, how elemental Girlfriend is. It rises to the level of top albums of all time, and is easily one of my favorites. The synchronicity of Sweet’s romantic woes, the engagement of Quine and Lloyd to make the whole thing tough as fuck, and the fortuitous sale of teh record label (as Matthew described as intro to the ‘bonus’ tracks) was singular and that is the way art happens.
What do you want to know? Sweet played a nearly-historic Fender Explorer-copy for the entire show, and I was mazed at his chording. The lead guitarist, Dennis Taylor, filled in really well for two legendary guitarist, and the rhythm section of the band, otherwise working as Velvet Crush, were tremendous. We were happy when the band acknowledged power-poppers Shoes, who were in the audience (and dammit, just go buy their new album too.). Oh yeah, the opening band were Summer Twins, and they were definitely good, I respected the singer/guitarists well-worn Melody Maker.
I once read a description of Power Pop music that went something like “simple instruments and catchy, upbeat melodies about depressing subjects” and citizens, that is not a bad summation. I like that, both from the descriptive aspect and the way it relates to life as a zombie. Most of Girlfriend was inspired by Sweet’s personal relationship problems, and the original album title was to be “Nothing Lasts” After playing all the songs they kicked ass on “Sick of Myself”, a personal favorite.
Really, I would have been just as excited to hear him play a more standard set. I have sympathy for an artist feeling trapped by an early success defining them, and really like his recent work on Sunshine Lies and Modern Art. Also, I recorded the performance of “Sick Of Myself” but since the sound was crappy and mikey has told me I watch concerts incorrectly, fuck off.
But, holy hell, were we ever reminded of how FUCKING GOOD Girlfriend is. After the first three songs, Rory said most memorably (and after referring to his iPhone) that he was initially going to wonder how many songs off Girlfriend we were going to hear. And they came out to play some really great songs from later releases, more great songs from one of our best songwriters. I noted the songs, but I ain’t gonna tell you.
Catchy songs about depressing subjects; but the thing is that it is one of the ways that you beat those horrors and heartbreak down. If we can sing about the things that otherwise would beat us down, we conquer them. Heartbreak wants us to wail, cry and scream; but if we sing and dance, the looming darkness no longer has a hold on us.
Happy songs about happy things, nobody really cares about. Remember how quickly “Don’t Worry Be Happy” became the worst thing you ever heard?
Sad songs about depressing things have their place. I am a pretty big fan of bands like the Cure, Joy Division, and such. But depressing songs about depressing subjects are difficult to sustain, I think. I say that as a person that loves those bands.
But when I feel the need for tears, I am just as likely to drive down the road with “Girlfriend” blasting out the speakers, and tears running down my face.