Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Concert Review | Matt Nathanson at The Pageant in Saint Louis


Sudden popularity and music is sometimes an odd mix. In Matt Nathanson's case, one song, "Come On Get Higher," has vaulted him into the "radio-friendly" artist realm, and in some respects, he is still riding some of the wave that his hit off his last album, Some Mad Hope, gave him. To be clear: I'm happy for the guy. I've always thought he was under-appreciated; I still listen to Beneath These Fireworks and think it's one of the better albums I own. But, there's a problem with the Nathanson of old and the Nathanson of today.

Really, it has nothing to do with his music. His latest album, Modern Love, is a fine effort, an honest batch of songs that holds up very well. The problem is that I'm not sure the majority of the crowd at The Pageant came to see him because of Modern Love, or any of his back catalog. They came to hear "Come On Get Higher." And I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Of course, you could argue that his current single, "Faster," has also attracted mass attention, and I will get to that. But over the course of around two hours, Nathanson did his best to win over a sleepy crowd with wonderful older material like "Pretty the World" and Curve of the Earth," and, well, not many seemed to notice.

It was only until Nathanson started to mix in snippets of cover songs like "Jessie's Girl" and "Tainted Love," something he's been doing for years now, that people got up off their asses and showed some enthusiasm. Nathanson himself even had to remind people that this was a "rock show," and it was okay to stand up.

This should not have to happen at a concert, but I don't blame Nathanson for asking. His songs deserve more than for people to be waiting for what they only want to hear, which was, again, "Come On Get Higher" and "Faster," the latter being a tune that I'm still warming up to, mostly because it doesn't really represent the best of Nathanson's talents. Sure, it's catchy, and most will eat it up just fine. But, again, I hope that's not what Nathanson has become for the masses -- a songwriter who has a couple poppy tunes.

Think about that for second. Here's a guy with three very solid albums, playing his biggest venue to date in St. Louis, and people are basically yawning through half his set. Perhaps this is normal behavior at a show where people only want to hear the hits, I'm not sure. I really hope it's not, St. Louis. Because if it is, you're really missing out on a great songwriter.

For those that were listening, Nathanson treated us to stellar acoustic takes of "Bare" and "Sing Me Sweet," and played almost all of Modern Love, including the standout title track, "Room At The End Of The World," "Kept," "Mercy," "Drop To Hold You," and the best song on the album, "Kiss Quick." He even returned for a single encore -- Some Mad Hope's "All We Are," a song about hope for the life that is in front of us, and the opportunity it can bring.

"I went broke believing that the simple should be hard," Nathanson sang as the evening came to a close.

There's wisdom in that line: don't go broke waiting for greatness when there's beauty all around you. It's just that simple.