Concert Reviews: Matthew Good at Massey Hall, Toronto, ON 12/18/09 and 12/19/09

Wrapping up a cross-Canada tour with a two-night stand in Toronto, Matthew Good brought two very different setlists to the renowned stage of Massey Hall, with the first night being a moody, ethereal collection of songs almost entirely drawn from his latest disc, Vancouver, while the closing night played to more of a bitter bundle of hits smattered with new material that allowed him to go for broke and finish with not a whimper, but an enthusiastic bang.  My instincts told me that it was worth the investment to see both sets, and I am very glad I dropped the bills to do so.

Each show, in its own right, was a strong one;  the setlist choices flowed and created an underlying theme that wound about each listener in the packed venue.  For myself, the second show was the strongest, if only for the variety of albums covered and Matt’s gusto (or perhaps it was the icy back spray goodness he sang an ode to the first night?), but neither show was worth missing, in my books.  That said, I’m one who appreciates the full spectrum of Matt’s work; those who came looking for Matthew Good circa 2000 likely left the first night very disappointed.  It’s a shame for them; if they were truly listening to Matt’s lyrics, they might gain a new insight into their own psyches, something a little deeper than the sardonic humour that peppered more of his mid-career compositions.

Friday night’s stint kicked off with the sombre On Nights Like Tonight, a track reminiscent of Matt’s earlier demos circa 15 Hours On A September Thursday blended with the seasoned songwriting he’s developed over time.  It’s by far one of the stronger tracks on the new disc, and it slid easily into the title track of Avalanche, the theme of desperate attempts to be what one wants or perhaps needs to be ringing clear.  Jaded disillusionment and personal failure (particularly romantic relationships) seemed the lyrical theme of the night, with tracks like Born Losers and Us Remains Impossible slamming the point home in punchy fashion.

What made the show so much better than the Peterborough gig for me was the extensive banter between songs, as Matt launched into a dissection of his back pain relief and its tingling distraction, then swiftly diverged into D Minor notes and Spinal Tap.  With a quick riff reminding one of the track Ex-Pats Of The Blue Mountain Symphony Orchestra, Matt turned his attention towards his talented guitarist Stuart Cameron, ribbing on him and implying that they needed an unexpected gimmick for the performance, akin to Paul Westerberg’s antics with The Replacements – namely, a starved jaguar with just enough chain to reach Stuart.  “We’ll give him one of your shoes for the two weeks in his cage…  You’ll die a legend!  You’ll be featured in a book on Canadian rock history – which only about ten to twelve people will buy.  Jaguar:  The Stuart Cameron History of Canadian Rock.”  Kitchener drunks be damned;  Matt’s far too witty to be contained.  When he later quipped that a jaguar lurked behind Stuart during the encore, it was priceless.   Saturday’s show, for the record, brought more banter of jaguars, along with a stuffed tiger on stage that Matt quickly chastised Stuart for.

Highlights of Friday’s set:  On Nights Like Tonight, The Vancouver National Anthem, Load Me Up and the surprise cover of The National’s Fake Empire.

Saturday’s set came out swinging, with A Silent Army In The Trees kicking off the evening and sliding into the subtly creepy The Boy Who Could Explode before yanking casual fans out of their chairs for Hello Time Bomb.  It was a vibe that befit a celebration of the end of tour, but also the vastly more inebriated Saturday crowd.  Their energy in turn seemed to fuel Matt and band as they delivered a harder version of Great Whales of The Sea and an emotional Volcanoes.  By the encore, it almost seemed necessary to bring them audience back down with the more sullen and softer tracks chosen, but even Champions of Nothing and Empty’s Theme Park had just that bit more of a bite that carried the show from strong and satisfying to nothing less than stellar.  My only down note is that Matt dropped The Vancouver National Anthem, my favourite new track and one that’s particularly powerful live.

Highlights for Saturday:  A Silent Army In The Trees, Weapon, Last Parade, Champions of Nothing, Empty’s Theme Park (best version I’ve heard, hands down).

Forgive me, for closing with somewhat of a diversion, but I felt compelled to comment on a particular moment in the second show.  In speaking with the audience the final night, Matt took aim at Toronto Sun critic Jason Macneil for slagging him for not speaking of world events during the previous night’s outing.  “That must have been where we lost that half a star,” Matt remarked dryly, “I lost them somewhere in the Powerpoint [presentations].”  In reading the review, I have to say I concur with Matt’s conclusion:  “It is the Toronto Sun, after all….  These days, they promote journalists from the obituaries to rock critics… And from travel, to international politics.”  You can read for yourself here, and see what is essentially a grade six level journal entry play-by-play that scarcely comments on the feel of the show, nor its artistic merits.  Hell, it doesn’t even wrap up with any sort of conclusion.  So Jason, let me wrap it up for you, and those like you:

Matthew Good is, first and foremost, a musician – and a damned fine one.  He is this country’s Roger Waters, and I am proud of both his music and his advocacy work.  A concert tour is precisely that:  a series of concerts.  That being said, Matt has, over the years, commented on society and international events during show, only to meet with an audience that is half interested and half ignorant.  One show in particular at the Kool Haus saw people ignoring a brief request to check out Amnesty International, which Matt followed up with a nonchalant, “Go Leafs.”  When the audience screamed five times louder for this over Amnesty International, Matt quietly said, “You see?  That’s the problem right fucking there.”

Matt blogs regularly and extensively, and those fans (myself included) who appreciate his vast knowledge and want to know more turn there to hear what he has to say.  In this sense, he is able to avoid wasting his energy and breath on those who are tuned out.  Anyone who has truly listened to the Vancouver album realizes that Matt is now allowing the music to speak for him; how can anyone attend a show with a song that contains lyrics about “invisible ghettos of privilege and grief” and claim not to have heard Matt’s opinion on the forthcoming Olympic games in Vancouver?

Jason, and those like him:  Instead of waiting to be spoonfed opinions and sound bites, get off your asses and read for yourselves.  Get out on the streets and learn more.  There was a homeless man in a motorized chair right to the left of where you entered the venue for the show; perhaps you should have done as Matt has done and spoken to him as a human being, if you wished to know more.  I talked to him for ten minutes, and winced as he told me how his father broke his legs ten times with a baseball bat as a child before he finally ran away for good.  He’s 64 and without disability support or old age pension.  His story is but one similar to those displaced by the Olympic games, the people Matt has spoken of in his blog and sung about.

Open your eyes and ears and learn to read between the party lines.  We have to stop, as Matt sings, stepping over ourselves.

SETLIST:  MATTHEW GOOD @ MASSEY HALL, TORONTO ON 12/18/09

On Nights Like Tonight
Avalanche
The Boy Who Could Explode
Last Parade
The Future Is X-Rated
Great Whales of the Sea
Born Losers
The Vancouver National Anthem
Load Me Up/Love Will Tear Us Apart
Apparitions
Weapon

Giant
Us Remains Impossible
Empty’s Theme Park
Fake Empire (The National) (solo)


SETLIST:  MATTHEW GOOD @ MASSEY HALL, TORONTO ON 12/19/09

A Silent Army In The Trees
The Boy Who Could Explode
Hello Time Bomb
Great Whales of the Sea
Volcanoes
Born Losers
I’m A Window
Last Parade
Load Me Up
Alert Status Red
Weapon
Apparitions

Champions of Nothing
Odette
Empty’s Theme Park
Fake Empire (The National) (solo)

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