Power popper Matthew Sweet did a really odd thing Sunday (May 4)
night in Tucson, Arizona. The second odd thing in a week, really. The first was
canceling his Wednesday show (April 30) unexpectedly, for what the audience
later learned was a broken mirror on his tour bus following a minor accident
with a van.
Apparently, the driver wouldn't let the show go on and Sweet
and company were stranded until the chauffeur could see clearly again. Weird,
but not that weird. The truly odd thing he did during his hour-and-a-half gig
at Club Congress was this: he played a show for the audience, without
shoving his latest product (too far) down their throats. Now, while this might,
in the end, be a not-so-smart choice for Matt and his career, it was an
excellent choice for the lucky audience, who got the chance to hear songs from
Sweet's last four albums, plus some remarkably inspired covers during the
The show began with the appropriately cranked strains of Cheap
Trick's first, self-titled album. Appropriate, because, like Trick, Sweet has
taken all the right cues from his power pop forebearers in The Move, The
Beatles and The Who and found a way to imbue them with his own quirky
Sweet kicked off the show proper with the Beach Boys-influenced
lead track from his latest album, "Come to California." Backed up by a second
guitarist and third guitarist/keyboard player Paul Chastain, Sweet and company
ripped into the song with an inspired exuberance that included a rolling,
ragtime piano lead and fierce, uptempo guitar work from a smiling Sweet.
What followed was a virtual tour through the singer/songwriter's
up-and-down career. "Get Older" from his last album, 100% Fun was
re-born as a moodier piece, "Divine Intervention," from his breakthrough 1991
album Girlfriend was re-jiggered into a shambling Beatles bar band
rocker and "The Ugly Truth" from 1993' Altered Beast was blasted through
in less than two minutes with an almost furious garage band burst of
What a difference a few years makes...
What a difference a few years makes. The last time I saw
Sweet, he was sludging through a lackluster show in Chicago, uninspired and
uninspiring, tossing off rote renditions of his songs as if the audience had
wandered into a low-key dress rehearsal and caught him unawares. This time
around, Sweet seemed determined to give every single song a face-lift, from the
once-sugary hit "Girlfriend," presented as a grungy, hard rocker that was as
close as this band could get to a punk tune while still inserting their
three-part 60's pop harmonies, to the new song "Over It," which they bulldozed
through in less than a minute and a half. The amount of re-thinking and
tinkering had obviously breathed new life into old chestnuts like "Time
Capsule," which felt darker and more desperate, and the set-ending "Sick of
Myself," which benefited from a faster tempo and edgier arrangement.
ended the show with a trio of encore covers that left no doubt about his roots.
The band executed a perfect swan dive into power pop glee with The Move's "Do
Ya," segueing cleanly into The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" and ending with a big,
sad take on David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream."
Ex-Golden Palominos chanteuse
Lori Carson opened the show with a mini-set (she graciously cut her headlining
slot in half to accommodate the re-scheduled Sweet) of hushed, fragile folkie
jazz. Sounding like a more indie rock Rickie Lee Jones, the intense
singer/songwriter played a mix of songs from her new solo album, Everything
I Touch Runs Wild, a Golden Palominos track ("Little Suicides") and
set-ending cover of Todd Rundgren's uptempo "I Saw the Light" re-configured as
a country jazz lope. Needless to say, the hullaballoza crowd on hand for Sweet
gave a somewhat tepid response to Carson's smoky jazz musings and downbeat
confessional tone poems.