Matthew Sweet Is Alive & Kickin'

Rockin' Tucson. Must have known Mr. Kaufman was in the audience...

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

encore.

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

songcraft.

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

energy.

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.

Sweet

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.