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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2 responses to “Matt Nathanson with Audra Mae

  1. Jason Knight

    That AV Club link is gold! Bob Mould. Haven’t heard anything from him in a while. Filling up the iPod now…

  2. AV Club rules! So glad I could point you to something great!

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