Monthly Archives: February 2012

Max Garcia Conover with Sammie Francis

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mayo Street Arts, Portland, Maine

Max is a dear friend of mine. A mutual friend who teaches where Max was doing his student teaching introduced us last winter. He’s been part of the gang ever since. I can’t separate my feelings about how great Max is as a person from how great his music is. Last summer, Max, Sophie, Chris, Brady, and I hiked Mt. Katahdin. Brady had done the whole AT and was no stranger to the mountain. For the rest of us, it was our first trip up. Brady had just had wrist surgery, so only went as far as the beginning of the Hunt Spur with us (at least that’s what we’re telling his mother). The rest of us continued on to the top and made it there quite late in the day. My refrain of the day was, “this is NO JOKE!” Mt. Katahdin is a serious climb. The way up was okay, but on the way down, my feet were D-O-N-E. Everyone else was okay, but I was not. I seriously meant it when I told them to leave me and I’d make it down eventually. I was a wreck. Chris made me give him my pack to carry, Sophie gave encouragement, and Max led the way—patiently, calmly winding us down the mountain. All told, I think it was a 15-hour ordeal. I bought my hiking buddies lunch at Big G’s in Winslow the next day to say thanks. We’ll got to Baxter State Park again this summer to camp, but I will not be hiking that mountain again under any circumstances.

Sophie, me, Chris, and Max on top of Mt. Katahdin

Max is one of the kindest, most thoughtful guys you’ll meet. He has a poet’s heart. He is calm and quiet and unassuming. When it somehow came up that he played music, I had no idea that he would be so amazing. Max is humble, and I frankly don’t think he understands how talented he is. He sent us an email last fall with a link to listen to his first EP online (conveniently titled EP#1). I listened for about thirty seconds with my mouth gaping open. I had NO IDEA that our friend Max would sound this polished or that his songwriting would be so layered and interesting. I was floored. I had to really push Max to play for us the next time we gathered and a guitar was present. He is quite shy about his talent. I had only heard Max play those few songs live before I saw him at his EP#1 release show with David Berkeley at One Longfellow Square last October. I went to the green room to chat with him before the show and reminded him that he needed to remind people to buy his EP. It’s the sort of thing he’d leave out. My friends and I took up the first few rows; his family and friends had traveled from near and far, and there was a lot of love in that room. And Max blew us away. I was so proud. Excited for his talented, touched by his songs, and just glad to call him friend. When David Berkeley and I chatted at the end of the evening, he told me that Max plays circles around him on the guitar and that he’d love to come back and do it again every year. Let’s hope so.

Max Garcia Conover at his EP#1 release show

Max was featured a few times in the local press in the weeks leading up to his Birches Lo release show at Mayo Street Arts. Sam Pfeifle from The Phoenix wrote a great review of Max’s second EP, Birches Lo. Pfeifle wrote, “the list of local guys with guitars who can grab your attention without any other window-dressing is a pretty short one. Max Garcia Conover is making a strong pitch for joining that select group.” About his songwriting, Pfeifle said, “these aren’t rambling folk crooners, but songs that ripple with energy and earnestness. They’re poetic and portrait-like, with lots of words that twist about . . .” and “he’s more likely to address trees and structures and landscapes than unrequited lovers.” I wholeheartedly agree with Pfeifle’s assessment.

Annie Seikonia reviewed Max’s EP #1 in the January-March 2012 edition of The Baysider. She hit the mark when she wrote that it’s a “warm, homespun project that gives you the feeling of meeting a new friend whom you’ve known forever.” She also said Max’s “compelling narrative lyrics are delivered in a voice rich as wild honey.” I especially loved hearing that, because Max has said many times that he only really learned to play guitar about six years ago (which I doubt you’ll believe when you hear his insane finger-picking), and that he has always struggled with learning how to sing. In an interview with USM’s Free Press, Max said, “I was really tremendously bad at singing for a good chunk of my life.” I can assure you he’s finally found his voice.

Aimsel Ponti interviewed Max in the Portland Press Herald about his life and the inspiration for Birches Lo. It was no surprise to me when Max replied that “most of the songs are at least partially about the desire to and importance of connecting to the natural world.” I think the most fitting place to hear Max’s music to fully appreciate it would be outside with him playing live around a campfire in the woods. If that’s not possible, I’d suggest downloading his music and taking it along on a hike in the woods on your iPod. It’ll do. I think Max would prefer you listen to the sounds of nature, but you get the idea. I also suspect that Max is blushing at this point. Or maybe even a couple of paragraphs ago.

I got to Mayo Street Arts two Friday nights ago (wow, I am so behind on writing about shows!) with enough time for Max to teach me how to use the Cube app for his phone so people could use their credit card to buy his EPs. I’d volunteered to run the merch table so Max could focus on playing that night. He decided to donate all of the proceeds from Birches Lo to The Chewonki Foundation, an organization that is “fostering an appreciation for the natural world and for working in community with others.” Max’s Bowdoin College pre-orientation trip was based at Chewonki. (I went fly fishing for four days in the pouring rain on my pre-orientation trip and our van broke down when we were supposed to leave for our first day of orientation—fun times).

I almost always position myself very near the front at concerts, but Mayo Street Arts is so cozy that my spot in the back felt somehow close to the stage. Every seat in the house was taken. People sat on long benches along every wall. People stood in the back with me. It was a sold out crowd for sure. Sammie Francis, one of Max’s college classmates, opened the show. She and Max Taylor sounded beautiful together. Sammie played piano while Max was on acoustic guitar and then upright bass. Their harmonies were lovely. Sammie’s voice is rich and she knows how to fill a room with it. Her second song that night, “On Cue,” came to her after not being able to write songs for a long time. It’s quite a sad song; I remember the lyric “so I sang to all the sad things/and I wished for all the glad things/but I only found walls that were black.” Sammie captured palpable emotion in that song. I was able to listen to it again at Sammie’s bandcamp site.

Sammie is a first-year English teacher, and it was very sweet that a couple of her students came to the show. She gave them a shout out and there was brief talk about MacBeth. She said that she’s not writing much music these days as she’s trying to get through her first year of teaching (don’t worry, Sammie, it gets better!). Sammie switched to guitar and told us that she grew up playing piano, but that she picked up her dad’s guitar when she was fourteen and hasn’t given it back yet. She meant it. She was playing her dad’s guitar that night. She played a song that she wrote for him, too. It was very sweet.

Sammie played “Yes, Please,” her only song, she said, that she can hear played back that she doesn’t completely hate. She wrote it while living abroad in Scotland. Max (Max Garcia Conover, that is) tries to record a song every Sunday (his “Sunday Sessions”), and Sammie recorded this at his apartment studio a couple of weeks ago. I was impressed with the guitar part on the track and wrongly assumed it was Max playing. That’s a compliment, Sammie!

Sammie covered Bon Iver’s beautiful song “Re: Stacks,” and she and another Bowdoin classmate, Emily Schonberg, covered Brandi Carlile’s “What Can I Say”—easily my favorite Brandi song. I saw Brandi open for Ray LaMontagne at Berklee in Boston on December 3, 2005 with my friend Kim and it changed my life for the better. To close her set, Sammie called Max Taylor, Max Garcia Conover, Emily Schonberg, and the fabulous Sophie Nelson up to sing a cover of Laura Marling’s “Rambling Man” with her. Everyone positioned themselves in a big circle around the room and sang together, literally in the round. It was lovely. Sammie went on to gush about Max and how far he’s come musically. She said she knew him before he even really knew how to play the guitar. Amazing how far he’s come.

Max Taylor, Sammie Francis, and friends singing in the round

We took a break and then Max took the stage. His voice carried beautifully and clearly in the space and his guitar sounded great. He opened with the first song off of Birches Lo, “Barn,” and went right into “Thatch House.” He told a story about going home to western New York around Christmas and finding a deer skeleton at a particular spot that inspired the song “The Creek Woman Poet.” There’s a heavy lyric in that song that goes “show me in my heart there’s a light among the liars.” I love “Among the White Birches”—it feels like a complete song held within another song. Max shifts the tempo about a minute into the song and then back again another minute later. “The Marshes” was one of my favorites of the night—it includes the line “and when this day ends/I will leave this place unchanged.” In the big picture, I doubt Max will be leaving our world unchanged. I’m just hoping he’ll let me tag along to the Newport Folk Festival or Bonnaroo when he gets invited. I’ll carry his guitar and fetch him water to earn my keep.

Sophie and Max invited me over for dinner a couple of months ago and Max had just finished up writing “The Wide.” He played it after dinner and it instantly became my favorite of his songs. There’s a crazy finger picking, guitar-slapping thing that he does that I love. It’s a supremely textured song. He played “The Wide” for Stay Tuned on WSCA 106.1FM in Portsmouth, and you should definitely check it out. Max wrapped up his first set with “To Belong to the Willing” and “Spiral Through the Wheat.” I love, love, love “Spiral Through the Wheat” because it’s upbeat and primal and Max rocks out at the end of the song, belting out “I won’t ever be done!” He warned us before the intermission that we would be singing a Bob Dylan song together after the break and that we’d need to sing “louder than anything’s ever been sung at Mayo Street Arts.” We were ready. He also thanked us a bunch of times for coming out to see the show. Someone in the audience chuckled and he responded, “Did I say thanks too many times?” That’s Max for you.

Max Garcia Conover at his Birches Lo EP release show

After the intermission, Max had us fill in some of the vacated seats in the front couple of rows. Some of his elementary school students had come to see him perform with their families, and the second set was decidedly after bedtime. I absolutely loved seeing Max’s students light up when they got to talk to him before the show. I could tell it was special to both Max and his students that they were there to see him play. It was incredibly sweet.

As promised, Max made us sing. We covered Bob Dylan’s “Goin’ to Acapulco.” Dave Yee, one of Max’s college friends and bandmates, drove all the way from Virginia Beach, VA to be at the show (yes, people love Max that much) and recorded the whole night. If you need a bit of joy in your day, listen to our version of “Goin’ to Acapulco.” Singing it (okay, belting it out) all together late on a Friday night felt so SO good. You can definitely hear the fantastic Ken Templeton on that track. We cracked ourselves up and you can hear that, too.

Max played another of my favorites—“As Much a Rising Sun as a Setting One,” that has the great lyrics “I’m always running and I’m always late” and “everything she falls on, I believe.” Max Taylor accompanied on upright bass and Sammie sang harmony, and for me, it made one of my favorites that much better. Max played “For Blackwater Woods” and then closed with another favorite of mine, “In City Light.” He stepped off the stage and played from the floor. I love the lyrics of “In City Light’—including “I’ve been dancing in hallways/But I play it down when someone comes” and “I’ve been writing my days down/Been writing so much/Writing’s all I write about/And I hear we’ve been wasting our time/And I’m terrified of wasting my time/But we all got things beneath our bed frames, Babe/That find us in the day/They find us in the day sometimes.” Max intended to close with “In City Light,” but we obviously demanded an encore. After many superfluous “thank yous” from Max, he played one of the first songs he ever wrote that was recorded “on a CD we don’t talk about anymore.” Ken Templeton knew every word, so I’m planning on getting my hands on said CD. He said the song “Fairweather Revolutionaries” was for his grandfather. I’d never heard it before, and it was great song to leave us with.

Obviously, I’m a huge Max Garcia Conover fan. I think he’s best live and I’ll be sure to post when he’s playing in Maine again. Check out his music and come out to see him next time! It was a magical evening.





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Catie Curtis with Jenna Lindbo

Friday, February 3, 2011

Pickard Theater, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine

My friend Sarah invited me to join her for a Catie Curtis concert at Bowdoin College to benefit Safe Passage/Camino Seguro and I frankly hesitated for a moment. Catie is a Saco, Maine native and a great folk singer songwriter, but she writes a lot of love songs—and I haven’t been in the mood for those lately. Let’s just say that if you like love and are optimistic about such things, Catie Curtis’ music is for you. If not, you might want to check back later. When I found out that a benevolent “ticket fairy” had already purchased a ticket for me, though, I was more inspired to go. Seeing this many shows, ticket fairies are ALWAYS welcome—if you know a way to get me a ticket or put my name on a guest list for a show, please do.

I heard Catie earlier in the day with Ethan Minton on 98.9 WCLZ during their Acoustic Coffee Break. They chatted at length about the great work Safe Passage/Camino Seguro does in Guatemala. Bowdoin grad Hanley Denning (’92) was improving her Spanish language skills in Guatemala when someone took her on a visit to the slums near the Guatemala City garbage dump. When she saw how impoverished so many children were, she stayed to figure out how to help. Within the week of her first visit to the dump, Hanley sold some of her possessions and started a school for forty children. Safe Passage has grown since 1999 to serve hundreds of children, and Hanley’s work has continued even after her tragic death in a car accident in Guatemala in 2007.

Q97.9 morning host, Lori Voornas, gave a great introduction that evening wearing borrowed reading glasses from a stranger in the audience. Catie Curtis is a wedding officiant (I am too, actually) and performed Lori’s wedding ceremony. Lori, like many of us in the nearly sold-out crowd at Pickard Theater, is a big Catie Curtis fan.

Jenna Lindbo and Catie Curtis

Catie said she approached Safe Passage about letting her do a couple of benefit shows for them. She so believes in the mission of Safe Passage, and both of her daughters were adopted in Guatemala, so it has special meaning to her. They are even going on a family trip to Guatemala through Safe Passage during February vacation this year.

Catie introduced us to Jenna Lindbo, with whom she recorded much of her new album “Stretch Limousine on Fire.” Catie and Jenna sounded just beautiful together. The room added to the crystal clear qualities of their voices. Jenna played banjo and piano, while Catie played guitar and the tambourine she’d belted to her ankle for occasional percussion. Their harmonies were lovely. Jenna has a very sweet, soft-spoken voice. I’m looking forward to hearing more of her music.

I loved “Troubled Mind.” Catie’s fingerpicking was perfect and it added just the right sentiment to the song. The song, about being ready to take a plunge into a new relationship that gives you some relief in this crazy world goes, “and I’m tired from all the weight/Tired of being strong/So won’t you come and stay/And let me lay/Down in your arms.”

I thought Catie’s introduction to “Sing” was very sweet. She wrote this song for her daughters. Her family spends summers on Lake Michigan, and a few summers ago, she and her family had to evacuate their cottage because it was struck by lightning—ironically, soon after she’d told her daughters not to worry. She said, “sometimes singing together is the only way to be courageous in a storm,” and her children actually recall the memory of running from the cottage fondly because they sang camp songs together as they ran down the trail together. Catie asked if anyone in the audience knew sign language, and a Bowdoin student jumped on staged and signed the chorus to the song as we all sang along.

“Soulfully”—a song about new love, goes “last night you found my house/You rang the bell for me/I didn’t know you very well/I didn’t know what it would be/But I felt so close to you/In so little time.” Jenna played one of her songs, “Thank You, Jane,” that she wrote for her piano teacher’s mother (who’d taught her piano teacher how to play). I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house at the end of the song. I heard audible sniffling and saw people reaching for tissues. One of the lines still sticks out in my memory—it went, “you lived 88 years, one for each key.” What a lovely tribute.

To end her first set, Catie played “Another Day on Earth,” a song she wrote after the tragic Arizona shootings last January that took the lives of six people and seriously injured a dozen people, including recently retired US Representative Gabby Giffords.

Lori Voornas and Dr. Lisa Belisle (also Bowdoin ’92) both addressed the crowd before intermission about the important work that Safe Passage does and how love inspires all that Hanley started and what Safe Passage continues to do. Lisa published Our Daily Tread: Thoughts for an Inspired Life, which has raised more than $22,000 for Safe Passage.

Catie came back after the intermission and started her second set with “The Kiss That Counted,” which is probably the song of hers I most often hear on the radio. I assume this is another song about taking a risk and jumping into new love—“yours was the kiss that counted/The one that mattered/My life before me undone/This would be the kiss that counted/The one that shattered my defenses/Bringing me emotion and devotion.”

Catie said she wrote “Seeds and Tears” for a friend living with a terminal illness. This touching song went something like, “somewhere beyond what we can dream of/I still believe all our tears fall like rain on seed.” Catie’s words offered hope for a situation where it’s hard to see hope at all. Catie acknowledged how difficult it is to play anything after that song, so she played about thirty seconds of a Britney Spears song called “Hold It Against Me” that I’d somehow never heard before.

A catch phrase of the evils of capitalism was easily put into clever words the day that Catie saw a stretch limousine on fire. It became the title track of her new album. She played an older song—“100 Miles” afterward, which Catie said she wrote to process her feelings about wondering if she was ready for marriage. It goes, “it’s gonna rain/It’s gonna pour/Through sickness and worse/Can I love more?/You carried me/When I fell/Can I carry you?/Can I love that well?” On a bigger level, Catie said, the song is also about wondering if you have the courage to leap when something moves you. I think that message resonates with a lot of us. Sometimes it would be nice to have more courage to leap. I chuckled when Catie told us that this song was used in a Mary Kate and Ashley Olson movie. A Google search revealed that “100 Miles” was featured in “Our Lips Are Sealed,” a surely meaningful film in which the then-young Olson twins witnessed a crime, went into the FBI witness protection program, and finally ended up in Australia. Don’t worry, you can find it on Netflix. I checked. Is it in my queue? I’ll never tell.

Jenna and Catie covered “Song for a Winter’s Night” next. Sarah leaned over to ask me about the song and I confidently told her it was a Sarah McLachlan song. I’m glad I do some research for these blog posts, because I know I have some mature, attentive readers who would have let me know that Gordon Lightfoot actually wrote the song. I frequently tell my students that the songs they listen to include pieces of older songs that were not actually written (gasp) by Jason Derulo and the like. And then it happened to me—a humbling moment, for sure. In my defense, “Song for a Winter’s Night” was released in 1967, thirteen years before I was born. I’ll keep fact checking.

Jenna played lead guitar for her song “Influential Role.” Catie played piano. I liked the line, “whenever I hear music you climb through the window to my heart.” Catie’s song, “Passing Through,” was next and was quoted in the program that evening–“I refuse to let my hope become the latest casualty.” The same Bowdoin student who signed earlier for the crowd was invited back to sign the chorus of this song as we sang along. Catie and Jenna ended with “World Don’t Owe Me” with a little “Joy to the World” thrown in for good measure.

Jenna and Catie came back for an encore. Someone in the audience said something to her and she replied, “well, since he’s here, I guess I should play it.” I assume her dad was in the audience—a retired teacher from Thornton Academy in Saco where Catie attended high school. She wrote the song “My Dad’s Yard,” a very, very sweet tribute to him on the occasion of his retirement. As a teacher, I know if someone said these things about me, I’d break down sobbing. The song goes, “so if you need something when times get hard/You can probably find it in my dad’s yard/And if you need hope/If you’re coming apart/You can surely find it in my dad’s heart/He can see the beauty beneath the dust and the grime/He can see potential where the rest of us are blind/He will polish the grey until it shines clear blue/And if you know my dad/Well, he won’t give up on you.”

I told Sarah I’d thought I’d make it through a whole evening of almost completely love songs as long as Catie didn’t play “Magnolia Street.” I assumed I’d start sobbing in public if she played it, in fact. For anyone I’ve ever loved, I’ve put this song on a mix CD. It goes, “I knew that I loved you/The first time you got into my car/Your cheeks were flushed/And I felt a rush/Come over me in the dark/I got us lost/But at the next cross/You said I don’t care where we are/I’m in the right car.” It’s easily one of my favorite songs, but definitely not a song I want to be hearing often these days—and certainly not in public. I was relieved when Catie’s encore was “My Dad’s Yard,” but then she said, “oh, I’ll play another” and it was “Magnolia Street.” I took notes so I didn’t have to listen to the lyrics. It helped that Catie told a quick story before the song about asking one of her daughters what to dress up as for Halloween. Her daughter said that Catie should be a hippy. When Catie asked her what, specifically, to wear, she replied, “I don’t know. I wasn’t alive in the 80s.” It was very sweet.

One of Safe Passage’s board members presented Catie with a thank you video message from children in Guatemala they serve at the end of the show. If they post it on their website, I’ll be sure to add it here. Safe Passage is an incredible organization that provides opportunities for children and their families who are living in unimaginable situations. Maine has been tremendously generous—according to their literature, Mainers have “raised/donated over $4.5 million to support Safe Passage.” I hope you’ll check out the good work that Safe Passage does, and that you’ll see Catie Curtis the next time she’s playing in your neck of the woods. To ensure maximum enjoyment, be sure you’re feeling hopeful that day. If not, Catie’s music just may help.

As I left Pickard Theater, Adam Ezra Group’s song, “Basement Song” was playing. It was almost a too fitting way for the evening to end.




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COME SEE Max Garcia Conover with Sammie Francis TOMORROW!

Show on Friday, February 10, 2012

Mayo Street Arts, Portland, Maine

Hi, Friends–

DO NOT MISS Max and Sammie tomorrow night at Mayo Street Arts. Really. Max is a beautiful songwriter, and he can play guitar like almost no one else I’ve ever seen. Sammie can really sing. If you miss this show, I bet you will toss and turn in bed, unable to sleep, filled with regret, for days and days. I saw Max open for David Berkeley at One Longfellow Square back in October, and it was easily one of the best of the 52 shows I saw in 2011.

Max Garcia Conover

Tickets for the show are available at the door and online here. Max is donating the proceeds from his second EP, “Birches Lo,” to Chewonki. You’ll see me there in the front row. Come join us. If you need more urging, check out this great review of “Birches Lo” by Sam Pfeifle in The Phoenix, this interview with Max in the Portland Press Herald, or these new videos of Max performing on Stay Tuned. Max has a YouTube channel, too. I’ll post a recap of the show next week–I’m a little behind on writing at the moment.



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Matt Nathanson with Audra Mae

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

My neighbor Andrea is a Matt Nathanson fanatic, so when I knew I’d be going solo (this happens a lot when you see the amount of live music I do) to see Matt, I rightly expected I’d be able to join her and her husband Cory for the show. We carpooled, and I dropped them off at the door of the State Theatre so they could get a spot up close (this was essential to Andrea who had flown to Philly to see Matt in October and had also gone the night before to his show in New Hampshire). I found a great parking spot steps away and joined them in the second row center on the floor. I find proximity to the stage really matters to me, too, so I was happy to be so close. There were a couple of women that Andrea and Cory were chatting with when I met up with them. They’d all seen Matt open the night before for Kelly Clarkson in Manchester and were excited to see him headlining. I chatted with a girl to my left who told me she had driven up from Boston and was really only there to see opener Audra Mae. We quickly realized we are both Good Old War fans (I was introduced to them when I saw them open for Brandi Carlile in 2010 and saw them again at one of the very best of the 52 shows I saw in 2011), and she’d learned of Audra Mae through them. I was instantly pumped to see her.

Audra Mae

Julie (I figured this out after Audra gave her a shout out) was right on about Oklahoma native Audra Mae. She is a powerhouse. I loved her from almost the very moment she opened her mouth. She is Janis Joplin meets country. Her raspy, soulful voice reminds me of Brandi Carlile. She can really, really sing. I liked her opening tune “My Friend the Devil,” and thought her use of whistling, tambourine, and even the kazoo hit all of the right spots throughout her set. She played an endearing ¾ sized guitar (I have a ½ sized one that I keep meaning to play more named “Cookie Monster” but it struggles to be in tune—ever). Audra was accompanied by piano and an acoustic bass (which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before).

She played a couple of cover songs in her set and let us know that she is doing a project to do 30 covers in 30 days on her YouTube channel. I love anyone who keeps lists like I do (I did “31 Things Before Turning 31” and “52 Concerts in 52 Weeks in 2011,” for example). She played Blind Melon’s “No Rain” and Jackie Wilson’s “To Be Loved.” She ended her set with her song, “Little Red Wagon,” which left me wanting more. Fortunately, I found a bit more of her music with her band, The Almighty Sound, here. I am still kicking myself for not picking up Audra’s music after the show. In my defense, though, there was a line and it was a school night and Andrea and I are both teachers.

Audra gave Julie a shout out at the beginning of one of her songs and seems genuinely grateful for fan support. I sent Audra a complimentary tweet after her set and she almost instantly replied with a thank you and also retweeted it to her nearly 1,200 Twitter followers. I read a little bit about her online (information is not all that bountiful), and learned Audra is the great-great-niece of Judy Garland, so her star quality is even in her blood.

Julie really did leave after Audra Mae, and was sure to give me her front row center spot on the barricade just a few feet away from Matt. I had never seen Matt before, and he was a treat to see live. He was energetic and charming and sounded great. He told a lot of stories about what songs were about, and I really like to hear those things.

Matt Nathanson

Matt Nathanson opened with “Falling Apart,” a song, like so many of his songs, about relationships and connections with other people. I’m trying to write a family-friendly review here, but Matt’s music and banter, let’s say, is best appreciated by a more mature audience. He spoke in code a fair amount because he knew kids were present. In fact, I’m amused by how many of his sweet songs are really thinly veiled songs about sex. I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out.

He quickly picked up the pace with “Mercy,” which was flawless. It’s so great when someone sounds even better live than they do on their studio album. “Mercy,” which goes “come on kill the light/Leave it all behind/I’m right by your/I’m right by your side/Ignore the tick of time/Put your hand in mine/Watch it all/Watch it all ignite” highlighted another of the themes of the night. Matt was quite chatty (I tend to like chatty) and talked a fair amount about living in the moment and not trying to be something or someone we’re not. He criticized people who are fascinated by Kim Kardashian and the like a couple of times, actually, and said we should seek to be more genuine and concerned about living our own best lives.

Matt interacted a lot with the crowd. He liked the posters people made for the show, especially one that said “Sign my tit! Or this poster!” I suspect he would have been happy to do either. He said that his newest album, “Modern Love,” is about the complexities of human relationships—and on his website wrote, it is “peoples stories. about love. about faith in others. or loss of faith in others. everyone i know was going through personal relationship crisis. divorce. affairs. being alone. being newly in love. i was watching the people around me struggle and transition. the songs are about them. about me. the struggle to actually love and find love. and accept love when someone is actually giving it to you.”

Keeping with the theme of loving and being loved in return, Matt said he specifically wrote the song “Modern Love” with a single female friend in mind who’d lost hope about finding love, speculating that “all the good men are either taken, dead, or involved with other men.” I suspect most of us can relate to feeling hopeless about there being love in the world for us, but Matt’s words in “Modern Love” are especially raw—“And all these salesmen/Baby, make me tired/They’re no good/To tell you the truth/She said/I’ve been gettin’ used to liars/They sing me love songs/With store bought words/They make promises/Like politicians.” I think we’ve all gotten our hopes up about love just to find out that what we thought a relationship was actually wasn’t. Matt says it well—perhaps a little angrily. He is in touch with his feminine side, for sure.

I think I’ll leave Matt’s hilarious story about his song “Bottom Of The Sea” to the folks who were present at the show, but will say he has some thoughts about Disney films and claims the song “Under the Sea” has absolutely nothing to do with the ocean. “Bottom Of The Sea,” which goes “if the morning light ever calls you backwards/Don’t be gone too long/Don’t leave me here alone,” is apparently about having a partner in crime to help you keep your head on straight in the crazy world we live in.

Matt played a great cover of the James song “Laid” (you probably know this song, but don’t know it by name), and taught us all a part so we could sing along. When a girl near me in the front row wasn’t singing and was taking pictures with her cell phone instead, he gave her a very hard time. She loved it. I can’t go into detail about that story either, just in case any of my students are reading this.

Matt surveyed the audience. He asked us if any of us have ever stayed with a person we were dating (even though our friends hated them) just because we really enjoyed playing “aggressive Scrabble” with them. Then he played “Queen of (K)nots,” about a relationship that was volatile and really only for the Scrabble. It goes, “you promised blue sky/But brought the rain/And I went missing/Oh, I went missing/While I was sleeping/You robbed me blind/Drunk on your power/Your sweet turned sour/You sent me sailing into the rocks/My queen of (k)nots/Your heart’s a jungle and bar fight/Lonely little queen of (k)nots/You must be lost.” He played a bit of “Tainted Love” and a touch of “Personal Jesus” during one of the interludes in the song, too.

Matt played “I Saw,” a song he released in 2003 that he wrote in the same key as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and then covered Prince’s (The Artist Formerly Known as Prince?) “Little Red Corvette.” Check out Matt’s “Little Red Corvette” cover for the Onion’s A.V. Club (and check out some other great covers there, too).

I liked the layering of acoustic guitars, accordion, upright bass, djembe, and voice on “Fall to Pieces.” “Kept” is probably my favorite song from the new album, and reminds us of the choices we should have made—probably the smarter ones. It goes, “I believe it now/I should have kept my head/I should have kept my heart.” There’s a subtle, driving percussion to the song that propels you forward despite the bad decisions. Sometimes we don’t know we’re making the wrong choices until it’s too late, right? Matt likened it to running into a burning building because we’re cold—even when your friend is there to warn you that the building’s on fire.

Not unlike the antagonist in “Queen of (K)nots,” there’s a villain in “Drop To Hold You,” who was “a thief/Who stole my money/Took my heart/Took it so quick/And left a hole as big as Texas.” But there is a happy ending to this song—“ you came around to save me/Now I drop/To hold you.”

Towards the end of the show, Matt played all of his best-known songs. He played “Car Crash” from his “Some Mad Hope” album. In the middle of the song he covered a bit of Ray LaMontagne’s “Jolene” and went right into The Head and the Heart’s “Lost in My Mind.” I was beside myself with joy and hoped that the folks in the crowd were aware of whose songs they were hearing. It made me even more excited to see The Head and the Heart at the State Theatre on March 16. That may be the show I’m most excited about this year.

After “Room at the End of the World,” Matt played “Run,” which he recorded with Sugarland (who he’s toured with recently) and that he played on Rachael Ray’s show that very morning. He also played “Run” on a recent episode of The Bachelor that I missed.

Matt got the crowd to clap during “Faster” (which was not easy somehow because it was on the count of six) and let us know that he doesn’t believe in encores and would play straight through. He said they’d play two more—and did “Come On Get Higher” and then ended the night with “All We Are.”

“All We Are” is my favorite song from “Some Mad Hope.” It goes, “well it’s hard to change the way you lose/If you think you’ve never won.” Before he played it, Matt said that our currency as people is our uniqueness—not who are compared to other people. I think it was a good choice for the end of the night.

Matt is from New England and said he had a lot of family in the crowd, including his uncle who’d taught him how to play guitar. He said he always feels like he’s among family when he’s in Maine. I was impressed with his energy and raw talent and hope he’ll be back soon.




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