I’m not certain what exactly I expected from last month’s event featuring Matthew Good and actor Jay Baruchel. I’m also not certain it mattered. Put Matt’s name and acoustic in a sentence, and I’m positively Pavlovian. The official explanation for the evening, dubbed Not So Private Banter, offered little more than amusing intrigue:
Conversation, music and a little mayhem. Watch, listen, and join in as Matt and Jay (acclaimed Canadian actor) take the stage and jam on anything and everything that comes to mind. No topic taboo, no rules, no script…The only plan is to expose each other’s dark humour, wit, and unparalleled world knowledge with a little meaningless information. All this mixed with Matthew Good’s legendary acoustic performance will make for one night to remember.
The first sign of the shenanigans on tap were the signs cautioning that this was an adult performance. Now really, if you’ve ever read Matt’s manifestos/blogs/social media of any kind, banter should be synonymous with profanity, but apparently this needed to be said. When Baruchel and Good emerged to meander through the crowds for a quickly aborted question period, they happened upon a father with tots in tow and wondered if perhaps he should bail. “I’m a father and I would get my kids out of here,” Good threw out quickly, before riffing on Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign.
If that didn’t clarify things, then the bar on stage should have. Or the increasingly raucous Twitter hashtag. Or perhaps the worst semi-nudes themed on Game Of Thrones I have witnessed in my life to date.
It was definitely a once in a lifetime performance that I wouldn’t mind seeing repeated. And it was a performance: Matthew Good delivered an incredible set loaded with rarities from the back catalogue in peppered two-song fashion throughout the night.
Think of the evening as a surreal means of transporting the entirety of Massey Hall into Good’s living room for a twisted house party. You know the kind: Uncle Bob is drunk as shit, Aunt Sally is regaling the family with her latest gossip, and Dad’s leading sing-alongs with his trusty guitar. The liquor is flowing, the laughs are roaring and maybe people are having a food fight for the hell of it. Or maybe Tim Horton’s has also sponsored your house party. Nice catch, buddy in the balcony, should you ever see this. Good friends drop by, perhaps to bang out a seven-minute drum solo on your pots and pans (or maybe Jeremy Taggart will bring his drum kit). Filthy Fantasy Pictionary Maps, anyone?
You may only walk away with the skeleton memory of a debate on the declining quality of adult dancers in this country. Perhaps you’re still in awe of your cousin’s Tolkien-Maps-On-Command skills (somehow, Matt’s map talent did not surprise me one bit). The important thing is this: years from now, you’re going to remember the music that held it all together. You’re going to know you had an amazing time.
Maybe that was the whole point, be it intentional or accidental genius.
It was the sort of concept that might alienate most music fans; for those in the fanbase who have always enjoyed his rants and musings, it proved a winning gambit. It was they who snapped up many of the tickets, and in the end, Matt Good gave the diehards a great show.
Opening with “Metal Airplanes” and “Born Losers” from fan favourite album Hospital Music, Good quickly made clear that nothing was taboo, save the dreaded “Rico”. Plucking songs from the majority of his albums (a true feat, given how prolific he’s been), Good wove together the mainstream crowd pleasers (“Load Me Up”; “Strange Days”) with rarer gems that seldom get their turn in the spotlight (“Symbolistic White Walls”, a personal favourite, and “Omissions Of The Omen”, aka “The song that coined the phrase ‘First World Problems’.” Where’s that Heritage Moment?). There has always been something special about stripping Matt’s work to its barest bones — see the acoustic reworkings on the In A Coma collection — which made for a strange juxtaposition between the absurdity of his hijinks with Baruchel and the powerful prose of his set choices. Perhaps underappreciated by the drunker members of the crowd, most were spellbound.
There is a reason the man inspires such loyalty, particularly in an industry where he has bucked the cookie-cutter craftsmanship often cultivated.
Of course, we couldn’t simply have the music. From a disturbing clown makeout shot on the screen during “Tripoli” to Baruchel failing miserably to defeat the Maple Leafs in NHL ’94 during “Blue Skies Over Bad Lands”, there was always something more to the performances. And, when Jay couldn’t stop goading Matt for his somber catalogue, we chuckled as Matt ad-libbed: “Alert status red/You can kiss my ass, instead.”
Allow me to be ballsy and offer, as a lowlight, “Apparitions”. It’s an amazing song. Matt performed it as beautifully as always. Therein lies the conundrum: always. It’s that wicked snare for an artist, I imagine: playing what pleases you, or conveys your overall message, versus the demand to churn out the big hit single. Even Matt noted, with an unheard sigh, that “It wouldn’t be a fucking show without it.” I say: it would be a show without it. It would be a show where perhaps “Pledge of Allegiance” could slide in, or “Suburbia”. Maybe a random cover would show up.
Maybe we should shut up and trust the journey the musician would like to take us on. This from the one who will clamor for “Change Of Season” until the end of the world, true, but I’ve never had a bad night in the company of Coquitlam’s golden boy. Trent Reznor shoved iconic hit “Closer” into the closet for a tour. The tickets still sold.
No, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into Massey Hall that night. One thing is for certain: it was, above all else, a night I’ll always remember.
Truth in advertising. How refreshing.