Phosphorescent played a mellow show at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on Tuesday, November 20. The stage lighting was soft and warm and the words C’est La Vie were hung in the background with little blinking yellow lights. Matthew Houck is the main creative force behind Phosphorescent, having performed under that name, often solo, since 2001 while compiling a band around him and his music. This night he appeared on stage wearing his own band’s T-shirt almost like he was dressed as himself for Halloween, a kind of silly unpretentiousness that most artists could never muster.
The band opened with “New Birth in New England” the first single off their recently release album C’est La Vie. The song is upbeat and happy, which allowed them to ease the audience in. “My Beautiful Boy” followed with a tale of the kind of love and protection that a father has for his son. The band displayed a type of rhythmic, flowing easiness that was both relaxing and powerful. At times they experimented with noise and free flow jamming that was almost shocking after having been shown just how soft their sound can be. As one might expect with the album title taking center stage, the band performed many songs from C’est La Vie and on “Around The Horn” we got to hear the power of John Squire’s guitar, who had many moments this night with both screaming solos and unconventional noisy departures, while Houck’s vocal layering spoke to both a changing of perspectives and an acceptance of one’s own shortcomings.
For the encore the crowd was treated to a pair of solo songs from Houck. He played the title track “C’est La Vie No.2” and, to the delight of the crowd, longtime favorite “Song for Zula.” In these solo moments we get to see Houck glow. His crackling and yet dynamic vocal range is unique and beautiful, while his guitar playing is rhythmic and pretty, the kind of powerful and restrained acoustic playing that many students dream of. His songs are lovely, bright, and full of wonder while his presence is both light and warm. The band rejoined him for “Ride On/Right On” and the show faded into the night.
Phosphorescent’s live sets are best enjoyed by fans of their music and those that can handle a lot of mellow sounds without needing to be reeled in with catchy lyrics or parlor tricks. The band continues to tour in the Midwest followed by New England in support of their latest album, and their performance in Portland was proof that they are not to be missed.