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 Matthew Sweet and Tommy Keene in Austin
Author: Michael Toland 
Date:   07-24-17 13:48

This past Saturday I saw the second of a two-night stand with Matthew Sweet and Tommy Keene. The last time I saw Sweet was at least 10 years ago, when he did a day party show at SXSW with Susannah Hoffs in advance of their first Under the Covers album. The last time I saw him do his own music was on the Altered Beast tour. I have to admit, I pretty much gave up on him, with In Reverse being the last album by him I've enjoyed. Until now, that is - I quite like Tomorrow Forever, his new one.

Keene played solo, starting out on acoustic 12-string guitar before moving his obviously beloved, battered old Tele for the second half. With a band, he didn't get to show his chops, which was a shame, but he certainly has the song catalog to do a solo show justice. Which made it all the more curious when he set aside two of his nine songs for covers: Big Star's "Nighttime" (just right for him) and Robyn Hitchock's "Raymond Chandler Evening" (um, what?). It was pretty clear that the crowd didn't know who he was (excepting the young man in front of me who was clearly a major fan), but it was a nice survey of his catalog, from super old ("Back to Zero Now") to relatively new ("Deep Six Saturday"). By the time he was about two-thirds done, the club was full, just in time for "Highwire Days," to which the audience responded enthusiastically. By the time he got to "Places That Are Gone," he had them. Then he stopped, alas. But he'd be back.

Since the band's instruments were already set up, Sweet came on a mere 15 minutes after Keene finished. He was backed by the usual Velvet Crush rhythm section of Paul Chastain on bass and Ric Menck on drums; the Dream Syndicate/Steve Wynn axeman Jason Victor provided lead guitar. Sweet is not flashy, nor is he much for between-song banter. But he and the band got down to business immediately with "Time Capsule" and pretty much never let up. This was Sweet and co. as rock band, not power pop band - there was a brute strength, especially from Victor and Menck, that surprised me. That's not to say the melodies suffered - it's a testament to Sweet's songs that they could withstand such brutal treatment. Victor was on fire during the solos, but was pretty tasteful during the rest - unlike Richard Lloyd, who played with Sweet when I saw him in the early 90s, Victor didn't feel the need to put in a fill or mini-riff every time Sweet's mouth wasn't open. The only problem I had with the mix was that Sweet's singing was buried. At first I wondered if that was because I was standing in front of Victor's side of the stage, but other folks in other parts of the venue told me it was the same everywhere.

But that ended up being not that big a deal - everyone there knew the songs anyway. Surprisingly, Sweet played only four songs from the new record. All four came off great - "Pretty Please," "Music For Love" and "Trick" were perfect for the slambang nature of the show, while the slow, seemingly meandering "The Searcher" ended up being a psychedelic highlight. But twelve of the eighteen songs came from the 90s, and most of those from Girlfriend and Altered Beast. The rockers ("We're the Same," "Girlfriend," "Sick of Myself") rocked as expected, but the slower songs ("Divine Intervention," "You Don't Love Me") came off as anthems as well. "You Don't Love Me" stretched out to give Victor plenty of time to go nuts. Keene came back on stage for "I've Been Waiting."

Technically, the set ended with "Sick of Myself," but rather than leave the stage and come back, Sweet went right into the encore, starting with the afore-mentioned "The Searcher." The awkwardly titled "If Time Permits" was more impressive than I remembered it on record, then the band closed with an absolutely lethal take on "Devil With the Green Eyes." The band did the old "leave the stage one by one" trick, with Sweet being the last, still whacking away at his guitar, which was fitted with a wireless pickup. We could hear him, in fact, still playing backstage. The whole audience gave each other looks - how long were we going to wait before he stopped playing? Up to this point on the tour (according to, that was the end of the show. But before anyone could shuffle toward the exit, Sweet and band came back onstage and blasted through "The Ugly Truth" like it was their last gig on earth. THEN it was over.

Everyone was buzzing as they made their way to the exit. Meanwhile, Keene was standing by the merch table, chatting with anyone who wanted to say hello. (This is consistent with the last time I saw him, when he came offstage straight into the crowd and hung out talking to people.) It was a helluva show.

Sweet setlist:

Time Capsule
Pretty Please
Divine Intervention
She Walks the Night
Someone to Pull the Trigger
Music For Love
We're the Same
You Don't Love Me
I've Been Waiting
Sick of Myself
The Searcher
If Time Permits
Devil With the Green Eyes
Ugly Truth

If you're fan, this would be a good tour to catch.

Post Edited (07-24-17 13:49)

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 Re: Matthew Sweet and Tommy Keene in Austin
Author: zwirnm 
Date:   07-24-17 16:23

Sounds awesome.

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