Matthew Dear is very much interested in aesthetics–of both the visual and the auditory nature. He and his band are damn well put-together. This is clear from the beginning. The whole group dons dapper-wear of the black and white variety (opener Body Language’s drummer even changes into a new outfit before returning as Dear’s Pat Mahoney for the evening). He wears black leather boots, wrinkled leather pants, a micro-collared, pure-white button-down, and an asymmetrical, artsy black sport coat. He slicks his black hair back before he picks up his black Gibson Les Paul, the jet-black glimmering with a perfect shine. None of this is a mistake. Everything is right where he wants it.
But just as the set is about to begin, Matthew Dear comes out onstage to a moderately sized crowd. He pushes a button on his laptop. Large, epic, sweeping atmospherics fill the space. Matthew Dear walks off-stage again. He has just initiated his own dissonant, mysterious intro music, and everybody has seen him do it. The seams are not as taut as Matthew Dear would probably hope for. Dear returns within seconds, and I am perplexed. Epic mystique doesn’t work if the very dude it’s supposed to be veiling initiates it.
So began a show that felt like it was kicking away towards something great, without ever quite getting there. Immediately after the band’s entrance, those programmed noises began to funnel into a more anchored goth-disco composition, the sonic aesthetic Dear is commonly regarded for. The noises looped and echoed as the drummer molded his crashing dissonance into a steady, incessant beat. The crowd was bobbing to what initially sounded confident and cool, but maybe not as captivating as might have been expected from such an apparent enigma. The dance grooves were unwavering, enveloped in a wave of blipping percussion, trumpet spurts, and funked-out bass. It played out like a group fronted by James Murphy’s evil, dark, and less enthralling twin.
Dear periodically hunched to the ground to tend to his knobbery, twisting and turning equipment, seemingly striving towards something more. Though tinkering ever so minutely with his vast array of effects pedals, in search of just the modulations in his mind’s ear, it seemed like he never really got there.
Then he’d begin his Byrne-ian ranting, probably the most idiosyncratic thing about Dear, even though it’s quite reminiscent of others: the aforementioned David Byrne, Kyp Malone, and a more masculine Fever Ray. All the while this wall of minimal disco was piling up, Matthew Dear was yelling things with a feigned look of crazy in his eyes. He seemed to want to possess the very enigmatic spirit I, too, want from him. But when all is said and done, it just began to feel more and more like a pretty cool dude, dressed interestingly, playing pretty awesome electro-rock. Nothing more.
As the show moved forward, I found myself continually wondering if I was maybe missing something, or if it was simply too late for me to really embrace this world I was seemingly being ushered through (It was 1 am on a Wednesday, mind you). “Is Matthew Dear some genius mastermind, like he presents himself to be?” I wondered. “I mean, his whole band is dressed in black, for God’s sake! Something epic has got to be going on, right?”
Perhaps I had searched for enigmatic greatness blindly, never really reading much about Dear before the show. But nothing that the group presented last night ever reached the level of enthralling spectacle that Dear seemed to strive for, and I’m still not exactly sure why. Maybe the set lacked flow, range of mood and tempos, or the seamlessness required to transport the crowd to that sleepless Black City. Maybe I was just too tired (fitting for a performance by a guy who wrote an album about a city of insomniacs). Yet despite Dear’s calculated attention to his personal fashion brand and his group’s unified style, I still feel like there could have been more in the way of a solid, versatile set. Sure, there was always a beat to dance to, or a tight groove to coast on, and oftentimes, the low end rippled through my chest, making me feel alive, but this sort of superfluous dancy bombast was loud and confusing. There were no slow, dark interludes, nor weird excursions; just a whole lot of unz, click-clack, and “Rah.” Sometimes that’s enough, but not on Wednesday night.