Live: Phosphorescent at Scala, London
"I´m just going to stop talking into the mic", says opening act Caitlin Rose, her head appropriately facing the side of the stage, "I go all weird when I try to do it." In truth, those anywhere near the back of the venue wouldn´t have heard what she said, but her statement served as a reminder of the sort of intimacy Phosphorescent fans have been accustomed to; it was a throwback to the tiny club days, when fans and artist could talk between songs. Not so anymore - Phosphorescent have gone from being an alias for Matthew Houck´s solo shows to a fully-fledged band. Like, with drawn out crescendos and everything.
But no doubt the audience (those who could hear) responded to Rose's attempts to engender this kind of atmosphere, and her self-deprecating mannerisms endeared her to the British audience - so frequently fans of modesty. Fortunately, the audience also seemed to enjoy Rose´s unadventurous but pleasant take on a country sound.
Rose is impressively mature and definitely suited to the mostly over-20s crowd. With no drummer, the instruments and vocals were allowed room to breathe, helping to sell her voice and emphasise the harmonies. It did, however, also underline the timidity of the whole thing which, in the circumstances, wasn´t a problem, though I suspect headlining her own show Rose may suffer.
Following Rose's pleasant set was Timber Timbre. They began with rumbling atmospherics, given an ominous edge by an eerie violin motif. Less conventional than Rose, Timber Timbre immediately impressed as the ambience of their opening morphed into a steady, brooding rhythm.
Clearly influenced by Nick Cave, as well as old country and blues, Timber Timbre manage to fuse these sounds into a mixture of folk and post-rock and, although they didn´t stray far from the formula they introduced at the beginning, they remained affecting throughout. Their somber (sombre) set was well-received.
Houck and band entered the stage to decent applause, the audience clearly anxious for them to begin. This anxiety wasn´t immediately alleviated, however, as sound problems interfered with the opening two songs. It all got sorted though, and the crowd settled down just in time for everyone to enjoy Here's To Taking It Easy standout, Mermaid Parade.
It´s been a strange journey for Matthew Houck. His first three releases received a good critical response, though he was lazily compared to Will Oldham and Iron & Wine (certainly, he deserves to be one of those people are compared to). His live shows at the time were intense and intimate; Houck employed pedals to bolster his sound and the effect was arresting. It made songs such as A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise walk a perfect line between intimacy and grandiosity - Houck´s vocals swelling and growing whilst he continued shouting into the microphone. With To Willie, Phosphorescent began to tour with more musicians, resulting in some of the intimacy being taken away. To his own admission, Houck hadn't found the right balance, and shows suffered as a result.
Now, however, the problem is well and truly solved. The band have come together and Houck looks at ease in his new environment. When Mermaid Parade finished amidst guitars and pianos noodling, there was a real sense that this was right for Phosphorescent; never rawkus, but lively - Houck´s delivery retaining the vulnerability that found him so many fans in the first place.
The subsequent set contained fan favourites such as stalwart Wolves and the excellent Too Sick To Pray. For an encore, we were treated to a small solo set, where Houck played A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise, amongst other older numbers. The highlight was an unexpected, understated and beautiful cover of Hey, That´s No Way To Say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen. The effect of this solo set was to remind us, as Rose had done before, of how Phosphorescent began, and how their sound works primarily because of Houck´s gift as a songwriter and performer.
The band, inevitably, returned and closed the set brilliantly, drawing out a crescendo in true rock and roll style - feedback, noise, the lot. The change between this and the solo set just witnessed told the whole story of Phosphorescent, and to Houck´s credit he looked equally at home in both environments. An excellent night, showcasing a gifted and rapidly maturing musician. , amongst other , amon18 September, 2010 - 14:11 — Paul Fowler