by David A. Koran
Four years is a long time to wait, and seven is even longer. However, the need for a concert by Matthew Sweet was fulfilled this past Saturday at Washington, D.C's 9:30 Club. But, as regular readers of this site may ask, "why are you reviewing a rock concert on a site for film music?" My response will typically revolve around the fact that Matthew, in this case, actually has contributed to a number of soundtrack albums, either as a performer, or as a writer and producer, but also his style usually has him writing extremely lush and complex musical arrangements, even if they just are "rock songs".
To fill in the blanks, for those who don't follow, Matthew got his start "a- ways" back in the early 1980's, a "turbulent" time for pop music, which was trying to find it's way after the punk explosion and the disco implosion of the late 1970's and early 1980's. Coming into fill the "void", were more traditional acts, but also a genre called New Wave, populated at this time with bands such as Talking Heads and The Pretenders, among others. This was a predecessor to what began to coalesce into what became in the late 80's Alternative Rock. You had the Seattle and Southern California scenes, and a number of New York and other east coast acts, and a smattering of small local musical cadres all fighting to be born into the scene.
In 1991, Matthew Sweet made that transition from the early synth-pop of his first two albums, and graduated with the release of the seminal "Girlfriend". His previous credentials also included working with a pre-R.E.M. Michael Stipe (and his sister), but "Girlfriend" had legs of it's own, bursting on to the scene with asolid album full of memorable tracks, including the catchy (and most famous) title,which was relegated to the third slot on the album. The flow and strength of the album led comparisons to great concept albums such as The Beatles' "White Album", The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds", and The Kinks' "The Village Green Preservation Society".
Saturday's performance was a return to a solid past of hits even given the shaky self-released previous two albums. Sporting his band, of which actually was his opening act, Velvet Crush (co-founded by drummer Ric Menck), Sweet drove into that newer territory for about ten songs, blistering power-pop and hard driving melodies, and then introduced his opening act, actually in the middle of theset, where they played five songs, before returning to another slate of Sweet favorites. As Matthew recalled to the audience, it was an idea they hatched while playing Japan (a country that fields a larger fan base right now for him), to integrate both bands in this way. Overall it was a fun, lively, and consistently enjoyable concert experience, filled with fans of both groups and of varying ages and backgrounds. Sweet also took yelled requests to the band for audience favorites and occasionally veered from the predisposed setlist to accommodate those songs. Showing their chops as fan-energized band, they managed two encores before leaving the stage about two hours after the start of the show.
You can find anumber of Matthew Sweet's songs on recent soundtracks (either as a solo act or in conjunction with other artists) including Win A Date With Tad Hamilton, Ash Wednesday, The Craft and as a member of Ming Tea, Austin Powers' band from the three Austin Powers films. He's also had a penchant for television tributes, recording theme songs for Scooby Doo, Speed Racer, and Flipper, as well as producing and performing on the soundtrack for Josie and The Pussycats. This childlike fascination with these types of projects is forwarded in his performances, witha persistent smile on his face and a giggle to accompany even the slightest on stage humor. Matthew, a fan of classic films (of which a juvenile Tuesday Weld [The Cincinnati Kid and Once Upon A Time In America] appears on the cover of "Girlfriend" as well as his greatest hits compilation) regaled the collected audience with a story of his tribute to Tipi Hedron's (The Birds) Big Cat sanctuary, which the first track on "Living Things", "The Big Cats of Shambala" is in reference of a recent visit to that locale.
Sweet's most recent releases include "Kimi Ga Suki" (an album released for Japanese fans, but has found it's own over here in the US) and the most recent, "Living Things", which has Matthew collaborating with sometimes film music composer and often Beach Boys collaborator, Van Dyke Parks (The Brave Little Toaster and The Two Jakes). The latter is lush with orchestrations and other instrumentals, often overpowering the lyrics and vocals, whereas "Kimi" comes across as more of a harder straightforward rock-album, both of which saw excerpts creep their way into the concert on Saturday.
Matthew Sweet and Velvet Crush continue their fall/winter tour at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC (11/15), at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, GA (11/16), and end at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN (11/17). Thanks go to Steven Trachtenbroit of Big Hassle Media and Russell Carter Management for help with this article.