Matthew Ryan: Off Broadway, St. Louis, MO 6/18/08

There’s a moment on 2007’s A Late Night High Rise — the third verse of “Gone for Good,” to be exact — where Matthew Ryan almost loses it.  You can hear the undeniable hurt in his crackling, shaking voice while he sings about a lost friend, wondering if he’ll be able to kill her memory.  It was an album full of loss and hope, a real winter record, one that always gets a lot of play in my car around January and February when everything around me is frozen and dead.  It just seems right.

But really, I’m not sulking in my sorrows when I’m listening to Matthew Ryan’s music.  I’m just attentively listening – because that’s what it takes to get anything out of his wonderful albums, including his most recent release, Matthew Ryan Vs. the Silver State, one of my favorites so far of 2008.

 Luckily, I was able to hear most of these MRVSS songs live this past week, and I’m still in awe of what was presented.  Whether it was the opening “It Could’ve Been Worse,” the building acoustic-to-electric energy of “American Dirt,” the simple beauty of “Jane, I Still Feel the Same,” the anthemic “They Were Wrong,” or the Irish-influenced “Dulce Et. Decorum Est.,” which was done wonderfully with the help of Molly Thomas’ fiddle, Ryan exposed himself as not just another songwriter with amazing talent — he’s also an engaging performer, one that isn’t afraid to try anything to express the vision in his artistry.

For example, for the reflective “Closing In,” Ryan stepped off the stage and onto the empty dance floor, walked around sans guitar, and with his back mostly to the audience, delivered the closing track of MRVSS with unique hushed grace – almost like he was in a respectful karaoke bar. I’m not sure if anyone else in attendance got what I consumed from the performance, but to me it was Ryan’s way of peeking into one of his songs to check on an angle that he somehow missed before, a glimmer of inspiration yet to be revealed.

And inspiration was key during the 90-minute set, which featured many of Ryan’s songs from a wealthy back catalogue, including “Sweetie” and the crowd favorites “Irrelevant” and “Guilty.”  Even though it was a small group of people who got to experience a gifted artist in his prime, there wasn’t any struggle with what Ryan was trying to communicate:  that we’re all in this together, and that the battle may never result in a victory. 

But yeah, if it really is Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State, I’ve got no problem letting it ride on the singer-songwriter from Chester, Pennsylvania, no matter the odds.

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