Sweet and Savory: Power Pop Master Cooks at The Paradise

A Monday night club gig poses a myriad of challenges for both artist and audience, so you know something magical has happened when the performance brilliantly conquers all.  Matthew Sweet rolled into town with a crack touring band and a bus-load of fuzzy expectations.  Here’s a guy who nearly scaled the pop music summit with 1991’s “Girlfriend” … then slowly rejoined the struggling legions of talented musicians in search of a loyal fan base.  Would the man taking the stage in 2008 be jaded or rejuvenated?  The question was answered quickly and resoundingly in the positive.

Sweet opened with a pair of tunes from his new CD “Sunshine Lies” … “Time Machine” and “Room To Rock.”  The live versions were far superior to the fussiness of the studio tracks.  Probably a little unsure of exactly who turned out for the show, Sweet rather meekly mentioned that some of the songs might be a tad unfamiliar because they came from the new album, but assured the audience that he’d be playing oldies too.  He had no need to worry, this was a crowd of Sweet believers ready to go wherever the maestro wanted.  That vibe seemed to give him confidence and when he broke out the gem “We’re The Same” the tone was set for the night.  This was a reunion … a celebration.

Sweet’s voice remains one of the marvels of pop music.  He possesses an angelic tenor, but can also drop it down an octave or two to give a song some added heft.  Speaking of heft, Sweet is quite a physical presence on stage.  He’s big and beefy now, not the hollow-cheek wisp of his “Girlfriend” days.  His page boy haircut now frames a round face with gray sideburns and an infectious grin.  There may be a bit more of it, but this is a guy who’s clearly comfortable in his own skin.  His interplay with his seasoned band mates was fun loving and effortless … these guys came to play not to preen.

The three guitar attack that powered Sweets songs was impressive.  “Divine Intervention” rocked with slashing riffs from lead guitarist Pete Phillips (a Boston native).  Paul Chastain and Sweet laid down a sparkling bed of chords for “Sick Of Myself” .. “I’ve Been Waiting” and “Someone To Pull The Trigger.”  Ric Menck on drums and Tony Marsico on bass provided a powerful rhythm section that never overwhelmed the vocals.  The songs were all given, to quote Sweet’s new song, “room to rock” but they never unravelled into pointless grandstanding.

The show wrapped with a blazing rendition of “Superdeformed” and a promise of a return engagement in the not too distant future.  Sweet lives in L.A. and doesn’t fly so that’s not something he’d toss off casually.  He was clearly heartened by this concert, and he earned the much deserved ovation he received.  Sweet is acknowledged as a musician’s musician, but on this night he belonged to everyone.

The new breed power pop group “The Bridges” opened the show (their debut CD is produced by Matthew Sweet).  I caught the back end of their set.  Here’s what I’ll say having listened to the CD before seeing the show … see them live first.  In concert they are attractive, vibrant and pleasing.  Somehow that charm doesn’t translate on CD.  They’re a group to watch though.

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