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Live Review: Matthew Dear, February 22, 2012, Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, Los Angeles – CA

The interior of Eagle Rock Center for the Arts doesn’t seem like the kind of place you’d go to a live concert. It seems more like a school cafeteria or a place where kids could do arts and crafts after class. Even with the lights turned low, a stage set up and a (great) DJ playing , it didn’t entirely shake this feeling. But, when it came to actually witnessing live music in this space it turned out that Eagle Rock Center for the Arts could actually be quite easily transformed into a space that felt entirely different, as long as you believed in the sound of the music as much as those performing it did.

Before Matthew Dear and his band took to the stage, local band Mini Mansions warmed up the crowd. This was certainly one of the most interesting sets I have seen for a long time, as Mini Mansions managed to somehow straddle funereal kraut-rock, Beatles-y pop, and Explosions in the Sky-esque post rock. They even threw in a cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” which sounded like it was played by a Liars and sung by John Lennon. With a couple of more straightforward poppy numbers aside, Mini Mansions’ set consisted mainly of long and multi-part songs. Sometimes it seemed a song would be completely lifted from the path it had been set upon, taken through a strange instrumental segment and then set back down into an entirely new groove, without the band missing a beat or losing a step, seemingly entirely in tune with each other, while the audience (most of whom I’m assuming, like myself, were experiencing them for the first time) were left scrambling to keep up. But, from the lurching bass thumping segments, to the twinkling anti-gravity break downs, I’m sure they were all enthralled throughout.

Matthew Dear himself is no stranger to combining multiple influences or styles into his music, but he ends up with something much more homogenized. Dear and his band emphasized this time and time again through their set which leaned heavily on the hits from Dear’s last full length record Black City, while giving fans an insight into what we can expect on his upcoming Beams. Dear appeared onstage first, dressed smartly in a full shirt and suit-jacket, starting off by singing into the microphone and having the words repeated seemingly in reverse, creating a haunting atmosphere. As the band joined the set became more dance-infused, but the spooky nature of the music never subsided even amongst the danciest moments, thanks greatly to the work of Greg Paulus on trumpet, and together the band turned the dining-hall like surroundings into something like what we make expect the Great Hall at Hogwarts to be like at the Halloween Ball.

Since Dear and his band didn’t often leave much time between songs, the whole atmosphere became more like a club, with people dancing, talking in the brief down-time between songs and then cheering whenever a new song they recognized like “Slowdance” was played, bringing them right back into the dancing mood once more. The volume of many of the songs, brought about by the determination to get the crowd moving, seemed to turn into more of a drone-like sound at times, which could have easily lost the interest of the audience, but thanks to the auxiliary percussion creating additional rhythms, plus the stellar synth work, the songs never felt slovenly and managed to keep everyone at the very least nodding their heads throughout. The tightness of the band was particularly impressive since it was their first time playing together publicly.

The set culminated in Dear stripped of his jacket, sweating and singing passionately into his microphone. It seemed to be a moment that had come about all of a sudden; Dear and his band’s music seems so natural and even at times kind of relaxed, that you forget how much work and passion goes into making it, especially when they’re playing songs end on end with barely a moment of respite. This final image enforced the idea that Matthew Dear puts his all into his work, and even though he already has a handful of releases under his belt, we can be assured that he still lives to make his music. All we can do now is wait excitedly for his next album, Beams.

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