Report: Matthew Sweet Live In San Fran

 

The venerated
power-pop guru dusts off hallowed Girlfriend album on its 20th anniversary at
Yoshi’s on December 27.

 

By Jud Cost

Matthew Sweet, his name synonymous with the early-’90s
rebirth of the power pop genre, and one of the few artists who didn’t consider
the term to be pejorative (the Posies and Tommy Keene never liked it much) had
a special reason for touring in 2011. And it wasn’t just the recent release of
his fine new album, Modern Art (Missing Piece). “We thought about supporting the new record,” he
told a rapt full house at Yoshi’s in
San Francisco’s
Fillmore district. “We figured a better idea would be to celebrate the
20th anniversary of Girlfriend. So,
we’ll be playing the entire album tonight.”

 

Good idea, and he drafted the perfect crew to burnish the
holy relic with all proper reverence. As expected, Sweet brought along the core
of venerated combo Velvet Crush – Paul Chastain on bass and Ric Menck on drums,
both of whom have manned most of Sweet’s recorded output. Dennis Taylor, the
guitarist from Modern Art, ripped
through the stirring leads from Girlfriend originally played by a pair of New
York fretboard legends: Television’s Richard Lloyd
and the Void Oids’ Robert Quine – no mean feat.

 

Sweet’s beard is a little greyer than it was last time
through town in 2008; Menck, who once resembled Jan & Dean’s Dean Torrence,
has shaved off his Civil War-era beard and wore a red ballcap and a t-shirt
that broadcast “Time Heals All Wounds, Time Wounds All Heels”; and
Taylor had a mop of long, curly hair that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of
London’s Pink Fairies, 40 years ago. Chastain, who looks like he hasn’t aged a
day in the past two decades, now bears an uncanny resemblance to Jackie Earle
Haley’s Moocher character from 1979 coming-of-age flick Breaking Away.

 

Wasting no time, they dug right into Girlfriend‘s chugging, false-ending-loaded opener, “Divine
Intervention,” and signature love letter “I’ve Been
Waiting.”  The album’s buoyantly
rocking title song, with its clever updating of Jefferson Airplane’s
“Somebody To Love” lyrics, sounds as amazing as ever. Unlike the
hippies’ “if you love something, set it free” ethic, Sweet ends the
tune with, “I’m never gonna set you free.”

 

The only possible roadblock to recreating Girlfriend live would be how to cover
Greg Leisz’s exemplary pedal steel guitar work found on some of the record’s
most hypnotic songs? Taylor
skillfully ballparked the sound with the use of an effects pedal on the album’s
most serious heartbreaker “Winona.” (“Could you be my little
movie star?/Could you be my long-lost girl?”).

 

Menck, surely the best rock drummer of his post-Clem Burke
generation, knows just what to do on the really down-and-out stuff. “Day
For Night,” slowed to a crawl, has moments that, had they been cut 35
years earlier, would have sat well on a heartfelt doo-wop single.

 

“It used to be that when you made an album, you
top-loaded it. So now we’re at the point where we play…uhh…the deep tracks,”
Sweet cracks. Utter balderdash, of course. Some of its most telling moments,
the insinuating refrain from “I Wanted To Tell You,” for example, are
found in the album’s back forty.

 

“So that was the album in its entirety,” says
Sweet as they finish off “Your Sweet Voice.” But, wait, there’s still
more. “We were just kids when we made Girlfriend.
We didn’t know, and nobody told us not to, so we recorded three more songs at
the same sessions. And I added them to the CD version with a long, maybe
60-second break before they started to play. So, here they are, the bonus
tracks.”

 

“Does She Talk,” the first of the trio, finds
Sweet’s vocal phrasing employing a potent, hi-octane mixture of Bob Dylan and
Iggy Pop. The final number of the three is “Nothing Lasts,” the
original title of the longplayer before Sweet discovered a perfect vintage
photo of actress Tuesday Weld wrapped in a parka on windswept Sepulveda Blvd. to grace the cover of his re-named epic
work.

 

“We didn’t want to end with a sad song, so here are few
more from Modern Art, 100 Percent Fun and Altered Beast,” says Sweet, putting the maraschino cherry on a
terrific career retrospective. “Thanks for coming out. We didn’t know what
kind of crowd to expect. None of you looks a day older,” says Sweet before
departing. Not true, of course, but there’s no denying the time-stands-still
aspect of what must be considered Matthew Sweet’s master-stroke.

 

 

 

 

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