12 March 2008

Cutting Corners with Our Faces

Matt Pond PA @ The Map Room, Charleston, SC (March 4, 2008)

There are a few bands that garner more than four CD-sized slots on my music rack. And those slots are usually occupied by “classic” artists (Neil Young, The Beatles, U2) and a few less-than-a decade-old bands (The Pernice Brothers, Modest Mouse, Ryan Adams). Matt Pond PA falls into the latter category, though I often find it difficult to remember why I own six discs (four full lengths and two EPs) of their/his music; that is, until I break one out on long car ride or breathe in deep, wintry air and feel like I must listen to one of his songs. Now.

That MPPA are deeply and almost comprehensively associated with weather, seasons, holidays, etc. is an element that listeners and fans have no doubt come to observe and, most likely, appreciate. It’s fitting then that MPPA’s first trip to Charleston in seven years would come at a time when we were anticipating a violent burst of severe weather. Tornadoes and hail were loudly called for by the weatherpersons; none of it materialized, except for some occasional bursts of wind and a few brief cloud bursts. Nonetheless, with the elements working against us and a heavily anticipated Tuesday night primary in Texas and Ohio, I did not expect a big crowd at The Map Room.

I was totally and utterly wrong.

A crowd of at least 150 packed the stage area and the surrounding bar. (Doesn’t sound like a lot of folks, I know, but The Map Room is not what one would call large.) Fortunately, I managed to aimlessly wander to the front of the stage during tuning/soundcheck and then, as if by surprise, the band started to play. I felt a push against my back and turned to see four, thick rows of people paraded behind me.

The set relied heavily on the latest release, Last Light. Definitely not one of MPPA’s better albums, mostly because it sound as if Matt Pond decided to try to make a half-hearted rock record—a task that does not really fit into his band’s sound. The cello got ditched for this record and for this tour, but the songs still held enough thrust and melody without it to stand on their own. And anyone who's a fan will tell you that MPPA have songs whose melodies and lyrics rattle in your brain for weeks, months, and, for some, years. And everyone has a favorite song—that one song—that makes the daytime that much more bearable and the nighttime that much more glorious.

The momentum of the evening would build and swell with exceptional songs like, “So Much Trouble” and “People Have a Way,” and then crash way down with songs like “Wild Girl” and “New Hampshire.” Matt Pond does not look comfortable onstage, and his dreamy-nature-boy aloofness may be endearing to the ladies, but comes off as painful to some. “Here is a song,” he would say sheepishly before a few numbers. And inevitably someone would holler out a request for some obscure songs off of Measure or The Nature of Maps.

The night felt surreal with the bruising wind outside rattling the windows, Barack Obama slowly losing Texas and Ohio, and the drunk girl beside who kept yelling for “Grave’s Disease” (another obscure song from Emblems). And I felt like someone gave me a shot in the arm after the show ended, but the people refused to leave. “Guys, it’s a Tuesday night and the hurricane is coming,” Matt Pond joked after coming out for a second encore. But no one listened. Some folks had waited seven years for MPPA to come back to this city and they might not be around in another seven years to see them again.

“Thanks for coming!” someone screamed as NBC declared Ohio for Clinton. “Now play ‘Fairlee!”

“Play what you want!” a girl yelled from the back.

I’m with her, I thought. I can always have a new favorite song for tonight.

Damien Jurado - "Texas to Ohio" (mp3)

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