When approaching the tour for his latest outing, Lights of Endangered Species, Matthew Good had several considerations to take into account. The new album is heavy on piano, for starters; properly representing it live would require a keyboardist. Fan fave Zero Orchestra is heavy on horns that lend it a unique ‘big band’ feel that cannot be captured with a standard rock band combo. At this point in his career, he has a huge back catalogue to dig into, but the new album is made of many sprawling, lengthy compositions that eat away at set time. With a mostly new band selected (including a last-minute switch of personnel at the end of tour rehearsal), there was a lot of negotiating to do between the needs of the artist and the desires of the fanbase.
All elements considered, Matthew Good has crafted a roster of songs this tour that, while varying little from show to show, deliver a coherent stage performance that has a little for everyone in the audience. The staple hits of the Matthew Good Band era are still here for the more casual fans: Apparitions and Load Me Up make the set each night. The set is pretty short in terms of numbers (14 orso songs each night) due to the length of the selections chosen, but he’s done his best to hit upon a scattering of the catalogue, for the most part. Selections from (in my opinion) his strongest solo albums, Hospital Music and Vancouver, are in short supply, and one wonders how it doesn’t feel fitting to deliver The Vancouver National Anthem during the burgeoning Occupy Movement, or just what Matthew has against the short and sweet tunes from White Light Rock and Roll Review. Initially promising a rotation of acoustic songs during this tour, Matt seems to have settled upon one acoustic number alone; luckily, it’s a fan favourite from the Avalanche album that he’s been begged for repeatedly.
Before addressing the set highlights and performance itself, a few notes: first, the venue left a lot to be desired. From a performer’s standpoint, it was precisely what was sought for this tour: an intimate seated theatre, with great sound; from the patron standpoint, it was bloody awful. A cash only bar and no ATM on site is foolish and uncommon. Ushers went crazy, waving flashlights and disrupting the performance in order to thwart casual photography that was unnoticed in contrast, and chastised fans for daring to leap up during the encore and dance. The seats were smaller than Massey Hall (I thought this impossible, but have been proven wrong), with leg room sufficient for perhaps those of abnormally short height. I would never go again, which is a shame given the sound quality.
Opener Daniel Wesley also left a hell of a lot to be desired. Known apparently for a single in Vancouver called Ooh Ohh, and produced by Dave Genn (that name’ll ring a bell with Matt’s fans) of late, Wesley’s style is described as Neil Young meets reggae. In checking his website post-show, influences include Pearl Jam, which explains why Wesley seems to be attempting to sing like Eddie Vedder, completed with mumbled, indiscernible lyrics. I’ve really enjoyed Matt’s previous openers, but I was counting the minutes this time. When your lyrics are so incoherent that a repeated “what you” sounds like a sneezing fit, and in another song, I swear you’ve told me to lick your ass, there’s a problem. I also couldn’t take his earnest song about gangs and drug wars seriously when framed by tracks Drunk and Stoned and the aforementioned hit, which tells us to ‘smoke a little ganja’. I’m also surprised, honestly, that Matt is touring with him, given his anti-drug sentiments. It just didn’t work for me at all, and I plan to skip his set next week at the Toronto shows.
Matt, however, did not fail to impress. The stage lit only by two table lamps, the set began with Matt at the microphone in darkness, and Anthony providing a solo piano accompaniment to the long-desired While We Were Hunting Rabbits. I’m floored by the arrangement, which feels more sinister and foreboding stripped down this way; I almost never want to hear it as a full-band performance. Chills. The set slid into the title track of the new album and felt smooth, as if the two were meant to be juxtaposed. The set carried on from there, heavy on the new material but also darting off into Matthew Good Band hit territory with singles Hello Time Bomb, Load Me Up and Apparitions (with Giant, another gem from Beautiful Midnight, opening the encore).
In terms of song selection, only Rabbits was a wow-factor choice; the set was, as I’d predicted for the city, a safe and staple show. This isn’t a bad thing; I enjoyed every single minute, and felt Matt was delivering a solid performance throughout. I just wish he would dare to do more of the rarities in acoustic form on this tour, or better still, take advantage of Anthony on piano and delve into the catalogue that is coated in dust due to its dependence on that instrument (Change of Season; Running For Home; Strange Days in full-band fashion). I’d also like to see Alabama Motel Room and Symbolistic White Walls resurrected, and perhaps more of Everything Is Automatic and less Load Me Up (which I’ve heard at all but one of my shows). The new material shone on stage: horn loops were employed for the saucy Zero Orchestra, while Non Populus was breathtaking. An experimental album has made the leap successfully to the live arena, no doubt; it would be nice, though, to see more of the older material allowed to gain new life and meaning alongside Lights of Endangered Species.
All that aside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable performance, complete with lengthy banter from Matt on topics spanning Catholic school canings, ear pieces that leave musicians obliviously deaf to their audiences, v-necks, and the mythos of the ‘random shouter’ audience member. Matthew is hilarious; I would strongly suggest he book a speaking/music tour in the future, wherein he does Q&As or random rants, then plays a few tunes acoustically, etc. I would be there in the front row.
US dates are coming soon; in the meantime, Canadians, get thee to a show. Or three, like me.
Set highlights: While We Were Hunting Rabbits; Zero Orchestra; Non Populus; Weapon
Setlist: Matthew Good @ Living Arts Centre, 10.25.11
While We Were Hunting Rabbits (acoustic)
Lights of Endangered Species
The Boy Who Could Explode
What If I Can’t See The Stars, Mildred?
Load Me Up
Hello Time Bomb
Set Me On Fire