Matthew Sweet w/ Gabe Dixon and David Ryan Harris @ Shank Hall
Sept. 8, 2016
Surely most everyone on hand for Sweet’s short, feisty set Thursday night at Shank Hall felt similarly. He played with a band largely comprised of players who recorded with him on his triumvirate of successes from the first half of the ’90s: Girlfriend, 100% Fun and Altered Beast. His reliance on that triptych of critical and commercial triumphs was as reassuring as it was probably unsurprising. He has released worthwhile material since, especially his three Under The Covers albums of remake duets with Bangles vocalist Susanna Hoffs, but the aforementioned trio of albums comprise an arguable high-water mark of hard-rocking pop since, perhaps, the ’80s.
It’s something of a shame that Sweet hasn’t yet garnered pop radio acceptance in the way he did from commercial alt rock outlets. “Girlfriend” and “Evangeline” remain perceptively concise in their romantic longing, and “Divine Intervention,” a questioning of the Almighty in a more exuberantly tuneful, less smarmy manner than Joan Osbourne would use not many years later in “One of Us.” And if someone hasn’t related to “Sick of Myself” at least one time in their life, that someone likely hasn’t experienced loving someone out of their league.
Sweet wasn’t much of a talker Thursday, barely getting out band introductions and saying nothing of the album he’s currently working on. Yet the intensity he lent to the brace of classics he performed didn’t necessarily render him aloof, but merely taciturn in his concentration. Anyway, sometimes it’s better to let songs speak for themselves.
More talkative were Sweet’s opening acts, Gabe Dixon and David Ryan Harris, whose Twobadours On the Run tour got hooked up to start out the night. Dixon’s the one who sounds a bit like Billy Joel, writes songs articulate as a cross between Joel and Paul Simon, prefers playing piano over guitar and has a theme song to a Ryan Reynolds movie among his credits. Harris plays a mean hollow-body six-string with an imaginative use of effects pedals (as he did for eight years for Jon Mayer), sings in a lower register than Dixon, has collaborated on songwriting with bluesy married couple Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Trucks and has composed a number about Coldplay listened to in the context of a romantic relationship in a way similar to Taylor Swift’s similar song about Tim McGraw and McGraw’s song about Kris Kristofferson. Their combined total of 13 songs in two brief sets had little to do with the headliner’s style, but did set the stage for an evening of superior song craft.