With their New York concert, Matt Pond PA took fans out of and away from the big city rat race, if only for a night. With fake trees, extra ground spotlights, and an old stag head mounted on the wall behind them, this once-Philly-now-New York band didn’t look like most acts to grace the stage at Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review). And the group took a different approach to its show, not trying to bowl the crowd over with volume, nor pluck at their heartstrings with sweetness or sadness. Instead, Matt Pond PA played it straight up, neither over-done nor under-, and added in a strong dose of humor.
Numerous times during the set, main man Matt Pond had the crowd in stitches thanks to his quick wit. There were his staples, like saying simply, “Okay, this is a song” before a piece, or when things had to stop for a tuning change, saying, “Hold, please.” He told nice little anecdotes, such as about damaging his guitar the night prior during the “New Hampshire” (“If there’s any less rock n’ roll moment to do something, it’s in a quiet song, to tilt your guitar to the side, and have the headstock break off”), or why he didn’t play tambourine on “Brooklyn Stars” (“I have a bruise that goes all the way around here [outside of upper right thigh, where tambourine would hit]… When I play it, it’s like, pain…” – apparently playing tambourine with his left-hand never occurred to him). When he came back from the encore break alone, waiting for the rest of the band to return, he explained their delay, saying “Everyone goes to the bathroom, so there’s a line.” With the nothing still going on, Pond took the opportunity to talk to the crowd about product placement.
And Pond was at his best when engaged directly with the crowd, such as with calls for older songs like “New Hampshire” (“Okay, lemme say something: We’re gonna play all those songs. Okay, it’s like, we… wanted to keep it a secret, but we just gotta let it out”), or more esoteric requests (“Alright, who’s responsible for saying ‘Freebird’?” and “’You Sexy Bitch’? We don’t play a song called ‘You Sexy Bitch’. I wish…”). Even simple pleasantries worked, like “Alright, I just want to make sure everybody’s cool.” “What are you guys doing?” and “Thank you for all coming out. We got a couple more songs, then we’re all going out together.” To a (female) shout of, “You’re hot!”, he replied quickly, “You’re hot, too.” To the odd question, “Dude, where’s your cello?”, he came back with, “Did you bring your cello? If you want to play, you can. If you want to jam, tonight, we’ll jam.” Even more familiar people weren’t excluded, such as Pond’s response to seeing bassist Matthew Daniel Siskin’s hippie dad (“His hair’s longer than mine”), or Pond’s amused and befuddled reaction to the utter lack of response – or even notice – from guitarist Steve Jewett, when Pond repeatedly asked, “Ready?”
But this isn’t to take away from the night’s music. Touring on the back of their latest, Last Light (QRO review), Matt Pond PA actually had a quite diverse set-list, split about evenly between this year, their prior LP, 2005’s Several Arrows Later, and earlier material. The first half of the set was mostly devoted to recent days, while the second half was more made up of songs of yore, with Several Arrows sprinkled throughout. Light’s short, sweet, stripped-down “Wild Girl” served as lead-in for the night and into the standout country-rock expanse of “Basement Parties”. After Arrows’ sadder “So Much Trouble”, and its eponymous track, were the only other 2007 songs in the set, starting with another sad number, “If You Live” (off of this year’s pre-Last EP, If You Want Blood). The crescendo of Light came with the back-to-back-to-back “People Have a Way”, “Taught To Look Away”, and “Giving It All Away”; the three ‘Away’s’ went from strength to strength, “People” catchy in its tragedy, the pop/folk of “Taught” touching (even without Neko Case), and “Giving” carrying the crowd through the darkness.
Matt Pond PA playing “People Have a Way” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY:
All done with Last Light by the night’s mid-point, Matt Pond PA still kept up that last trilogy’s excellence, as the band launched into old material. Several Arrows Later’s evocative “From Debris” and (almost) hometown “Brooklyn Stars” shifted things into the past for tracks off of 2004’s Emblems, and earlier. The fine, fine single “Lily Two” was an obvious crowd favorite, but the record’s driving opener, “KC”, more than stood on its own, as the first request filled. The two most-requested songs, the melodic “Halloween” and the high and airy “New Hampshire”, bracketed the encore break; with the ‘quiet’ “New Hampshire” delivered with an emotional power that one could almost believe might break the headstock off a guitar. And Matt Pond PA filled all of Bowery Ballroom when they closed-out with Emblems’ encompassing, “Closest (Look Out)”.
While other indie bands try to reinvent the wheel, Matt Pond PA just keep on rolling. Playing the second date of their coast-to-coast-and-back-again Last Light tour, they’ll be returning to New York on November 5th at Music Hall of Williamsburg. A nice change, yet comfortingly familiar, there’s not a state these boys can’t roam through.