Thanks to the new record from Phosphorescent, you can experience his live show from the comfort of your own home. Live at the Music Hall was recorded over four sold out nights at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY in December 2013, following the release of his last record, Muchacho. 19 tracks and the hushed din of a swooning crowd make Live something really special, and a must-hear for both fans and newbies alike.
If you’ve never seen Phosphorescent in concert, you’ll understand from Live that he sounds pretty fantastic. In fact, his live shows are often unpredictable, elevated versions of his recordings. And though live albums can sometimes be a snooze, Phosphorescent, or more specifically Matthew Houck, is a true performer and benefits greatly from capturing that and sharing it. Houck thrives on stage, the spotlight allowing his oddball quirks and big personality to shine. His voice is a pained and beautiful wail that should be heard in real life, just so you know you’re not imagining its power.
The interesting thing about live albums is that they provide a rare glimpse into the person behind the music, exposing us to bits and pieces of an artist’s personality. Over the years, though, Houck seems to have toned down his ego a bit, which is refreshing. Gone are the days of random, moody outbursts at his live shows. Now, it appears that he gets off on the positive energy from his adoring audiences, and he’s all about peace, love and harmony. Perhaps this is an extension of the carefree vibe of Muchacho, or perhaps he’s just more down to earth and comfortable in his own skin. Live shows Houck thanking his fans profusely, and he comes across as genuinely humbled and, dare I say it, nice.
Live is a cohesive mix of material old and new. Muchacho reigns supreme here, with beauties like “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)”, “Song for Zula”, and “Ride On/Right On”. Plus, he opens the record with “Sun Arise (An Invocation, An Introduction)”, a song that is quite literally, the musical equivalent of a sunrise – lush, all encompassing and magnificent. The a capella opening is a force at his live shows, and immediately sucks you in.
Longtime fans will also be treated to live versions of songs from records past like Aw Come Aw Wry [“South (of America)”, “Dead Heart”] and Here’s to Taking it Easy [“Los Angeles”, “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)]”.
One notable standout is the rarely played “Joe Tex, These Taming Blues”, an oldie but a goodie. The slowed down, quiet guitar notes mixed with Houck’s signature howl and subtle backup harmonies from his band create a true concert “moment” on this record. You can hear the impressive feats of his backing band here, specifically Scott Stapleton on the piano, who adds a nuanced romance to this tune. Two drummers, multiple guitars (including Ricky Ray Jackson murdering the electric), two sets of keys and more make up this incredibly versatile group.
It’s clear from listening to Live at the Music Hall that Phosphorescent seized a fine opportunity, recording a wealth of material and selecting the best for this record. You can tell that these shows were positively electric, and that the audience gave themselves over to him completely and he reciprocated. Live is a multi-dimensional version of what we get from Phosphorescent’s already great records, and a reminder to buy tickets to his show next time he’s in town.