As a rerun of The Simpsons rolled credits at my house last night, I got up and headed into the kitchen for a drink. While I was in there, I heard the intro song for American Idol begin and with it, felt the usual "I must change the channel now lest I begin to hate music forever" feeling I always do... but then I suddenly heard the beginning of Phosphorescent's "Song For Zula" and nearly dropped my glass. Shocked, I rushed into the living room only to find that this was, indeed, happening.
That sort of occurrence may not seem so strange in the near future as this seems to be Matthew Houck's (aka Phosphorescent) year, and his latest effort, Muchacho, is garnering him career-high praise and attention, and rightfully so. Everyone from Pitchfork to The New York Times are heaping accolades on the fantastic album, and shows across the country are selling out on the tour supporting the record.
The Hi-Dive in Denver CO was no different on March 30th as the sold-out show was absolutely packed to the gills by the time the opener, Philadelphia singer/songwriter Timothy Showalter aka Strand of Oaks, finished his set. The Saturday night crowd was a drunken and rowdy one, so opening the show with an amped up version of "Right On/Ride On" seemed an appropriate choice. Houck's excellent backing band seemed to feed off the energy, and as is the case with Phosphorescent's live shows, you quickly realized that this is a truly a band, and not a man backed by anonymous players.
This served the group well throughout amazing live interpretations of "A Charm/A Blade", "Los Angeles", the aforementioned "Song For Zula"... really everything they played was played very, very well. The band fleshed out the more psychedelic parts of the tunes and somehow managed to capture the whisky-soaked audience's attention for most of the night. Houck and Co. also brought the goods during slower tunes as well, with great versions of "Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)" and an ironic (given the circumstances) take on Willie Nelson's classic "Reasons To Quit".
I worried that Houck was going to lose the loud and rambunctious audience when he started a solo version of "Wolves", but the crowd was once again spellbound in no time as the layer upon layer of reverb soaked vocals and guitar reached an amazing sonic plateau. A truly unique performance and a highlight to be sure.
Like all great country music, Phosphorescent makes beauty from sadness and melancholy, but the psychedelic, haunting element in Houck's writing and his band's performances make for a truly unique experience. Houck seems to be a man at the peak of his powers, and he seems to have found the perfect group to serve as a live vehicle for his astonishing writing. Do. Not. Miss. Phosphorescent. Amazing show.
Photo Credit The Austin Chronicle