City Winery, New York, NY
August 27, 2013
Concert Review: Matthew Sweet at City WInery
Full disclosure: I bought Matthew Sweet’s “100% Fun” in 1995. And I played the hell out of it. I went to see Sweet open for Soul Asylum on tour that year. It was my first real exposure to a big rock concert at an outdoor amphitheater. His neck length hair parted down the middle and pushed behind the ears today remains as recognizable as the vocals and familiar alternative rock riffs that initially enraptured so many of his fans some two decades ago. And on Tuesday night Matthew Sweet was live in New York City performing in front of a dimly lit, but crowded restaurant space. In between servings of artisanal small plates and pours of the venue’s house created wines on tap were the same catchy and fun guitar licks about the lost loves that plagued us before we knew any better, performed by a masterful frontman who still performs as well as he ever has.
The nine barrel pyramid stood as the stage backdrop at City Winery during the first of Sweet’s two night local stint. With little fanfare, the singer strode out to the stage accompanied by his three talented bandmates, each looking a bit older than their style of forthcoming music would imply. But many times during the performance, if you’d closed your eyes momentarily or looked away, you’d envision a far younger band with this much talent, a testament to the band’s staying power certainly- but also a staggering consistency in being just that good.
While the spotlight undoubtedly belonged to Matthew Sweet, lead guitarist Dennis Taylor managed to shine as well, wailing away on solo after solo as the performance progressed. The band’s just under ninety minute set was excellent, even if it didn’t exactly exhilarate the appreciative but seated crowd in this intimate setting. The show kicked off with upbeat openers “Time Capsule” and “Byrdgirl,” with both tracks being equally satisfying despite being released some fifteen years apart. But it was the kick drum induced “Evangeline” that proved to be the true highlight of the set’s early portion- a rousing rendition that magnified the singer’s penchant for writing rock songs that evoke a feel good vibe.
Fortunately for more casual listeners, Sweet and company busted out the hits like “Sick of Myself” and “Divine Intervention” at the close of the main set. And yes, perhaps Sweet’s most successful hit 1991’s “Girlfriend” was just what the crowd needed to stand up in their seats. But it was tracks like “We’re the Same” and “You Don’t Love Me,” which concluded with a lengthy and bluesy jam that really allowed the group’s blend of harmonizing alongside skilled guitar playing to stand out. Matthew Sweet’s debut album “Inside” was released back in 1986 but as he heads toward three full decades of making music, Tuesday night’s performance at City Winery proved that artistically, Sweet remains at the top of his game.
- Jane Van Arsdale