Phosphorescent’s western ballads & swelling jams light up The Independent

PhosphorescentWritten by Mike Frash ~ Photos by Mark Fong

Matthew Houck may create and produce his music in a solitary environment, but he’s currently touring with a revamped five-piece backing band, including two keyboardists. Lead keyboardist Scott Stapleton stole the show throughout the evening at the Independent Saturday with his ferocious speed, quick dexterity and enthusiastic head-banging. While the keys & synth enhanced Phosphorescent’s sound for most of the show, these instruments did not work in mimicking the violin sounds in “Song For Zula.” This lead single from the new Phosphorescent LP Muchacho is one of the best songs of 2013 so far, but without the strings present, the song loses almost all of the emotion from the record cut, and it sounded hollow.

One of best moments of the night did not include Phosphorescent’s backing band. The first encore song “Wolves,” from Houck’s 2007 record Pride, allowed him to loop the outro lyrics “To wait till those wolves make nice”, essentially adding his own layered harmonization to beautiful effect. The entire group let loose during “Quotidian Beasts,” another standout track from Muchacho. It’s an upbeat track that allows every artist in the group to shine. “Quotidian Beasts” transitions back and forth between the wall-of-sound refrain and the verses, which show off Houck’s unique, crackly voice.

Phosphorescent exhibited a duality of sound from song to song at this live show; the setlist traded back and forth between methodical, western ballads and swelling jams. This is an effective way for Houck to exhibit his music, as things might get a little too mellow otherwise. The track that ended the set seemed aimed at San Francisco. The lonely cowboy desperation in “Down to Go” includes the exclamation-point-lyrics “Leave the city, can’t we go, I mean right now, I know it’s a pity, It’s getting cold…” He must be referring to a San Francisco summer, right?

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