Phosphorescent’s breakout new record, Muchacho, builds upon Matthew Houck’s barstool folk-rock with elegantly produced dashes of disco and electronica; seas of strings and piano keys. It blurs the line between Houck’s contemplative, forlorn folk balladry and assured, lighthearted roots-rocktimism. Tuesday night, Phosphorescent tried to bring the melancholic party to the Rock and Roll Hotel. Blown out speakers and horrid sound mixing tried to stop them.
Though the sound screamed out of the monitors with pain, it was clear that Houck’s outfit could tear the roof off of a better-equipped venue. Their raucous energy rolled with each song’s tide, heavy keys weighing things down to a crawl before fast strums and organs propelled them forward. Houck’s voice cracked and cried as always, behind eyes that winced with each word. At moments, the six players made the poor mix look moronic, their high-caliber musicianship threatening to take names. But the players simply could not beat a sound system that nearly bogged their entire set.
From opener “Terror in the Canyons” onward, the band worked out the kinks during one of their first shows of a joint tour with the always astounding Strand of Oaks. “A New Anhedonia” lacked the epic pace of its studio equivalent, its weighty downbeats blurred in with everything else. “Song for Zula” did its best to capture the elegance of Muchacho‘s standout track, working in synthesized strings and drum samples to effect without the luxury of acoustics. But a glorious “The Quotidian Beast” picked things up, the venue’s low ceilings bursting at the seams. It was a sure sign that the band could prevail and they went on to ignore their unfortunate circumstances, playing through new and old numbers alike, with strong pacing and energy.
Above anything else, keyboardist Scott Stapleton’s manic ragtime piano shone through the murk, along with his flamboyant gestures and inked arms. Houck’s croak was emotive and tranquil in equal parts, screaming through parts of “Quotidian” and “Zula”, along a sea of tight bass lines and quick-hit percussion.
By the encore, a visibly frustrated Houck continued to gesture that his mic needed to be turned down in his monitor. He rushed through a solo performance of “Wolves” (omitting the former Phosphorescent hallmark of drowning the song in a sea of looped vocals), again not too pleased with the folks at the soundboards.
But “Los Angeles” was rousing and heartbreaking enough to almost make up for the night’s misfortunes. It was a fitting statement for a band who didn’t plan to visit Washington D.C. “just to die,” but nearly drowned in feedback, nonetheless. Lucky for Phosphorescent, they are damn good at treading water.
Terror in the Canyons
A New Anhedonia
The Quotidian Beast
Nothing Was Stolen
Song for Zula
Ride on / Right on
We’ll Be Here Soon
Down to Go
Days of Heaven (Randy Newman)
Storms Never Last (Jessi Colter)