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Wednesday, December 13

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Review Sun Apr 14 2013

Phosphorescent Cheers Up the Heavy Songs at Lincoln Hall, 4/13

It's hard for me to gripe about a band not sounding the same live as they do on record. One of the greatest draws of live music is the possibility that a band can breathe new life into songs that on any other day have to be heard the same way over and over again in their officially-released form. Bands that approach live shows with room for spontaneity rather than with the intention of replicating the album as closely as possible are often the most satisfying bands to see live.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn't always work in a band's favor, and it frustratingly didn't during Phosphorescent's sold-out show at Lincoln Hall on Saturday.

We heard last week from frontman Matthew Houck that the songs on Phosphorescent's new album, Muchacho, came out of a long stint of playing around with various sounds in the studio before any clear vision of an album came through. The result features a handful of songs that center around electronic or computerized drum beats and noises, which would reasonably raise questions as to how he might go about adapting such songs live.

Houck's choice on Saturday was to go with a very distinct sound for his live band, featuring most prominently a duo of keyboard and swirling organ sounds on top of your standard lineup of guitar, bass, and drums. The band launched into the set with Muchacho's "Terror in the Canyons", which introduced the way in which the keyboard and the organ would trade buoyant, expressive solos on songs for the rest of the set.

It was an unexpected approach to the songs on Muchacho, which are heavy, large, and expansive in their production. With this live set-up on Saturday, the songs seemed strangely hollow and much less serious.

"The Quotidian Beast", for example, which is Muchacho's longest song and perhaps the album's musical climax, featured a shuffling, steady beat that turned a dynamic and significant song into something rushed and inconsequential--especially with its placement as merely the second song of the night.

All of this said, you could tell that Houck is both pleased with and excited to be playing this new material live. In the middle of "Song for Zula", Houck let go of his guitar to grab the microphone and walk freely around the stage, showing confidence and a great deal of comfort with what is certainly one of Muchacho's strongest tracks--and also the one seemingly most difficult to pull off live.

That's the thing with this show. The band didn't sound bad live. In fact, the organ and keys were often a nice touch, and it had a swirling, dizzying quality reminiscent of The Basement Tapes recordings from Bob Dylan and The Band. Muchacho's most energetic song, "Ride On / Right On", even enhanced all of the warped effects and celebratory vocal yelps on the album, but in a natural way rather than an overly replicated way.

After a relatively short regular set which featured mostly songs from Muchacho, Houck came out for a solo encore, playing older songs "When We Fall" (per audience request), "Wolves" from 2007's Pride, as well as a Randy Newman cover.

The whole band returned to close the night with "Los Angeles", which is a sprawling, Crazy Horse-style ballad from Here's to Taking It Easy whose instrumental breaks are just as effective in conveying mood as the song's sparse but chilling lyrics. That album came out in 2009, so the song has had plenty of time out on the road. And while the band might have been slightly tweaked since that tour, "Los Angeles" was still one of the strongest songs in the set on Saturday.

Perhaps all the new songs really need is just a little more time on the road.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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