While Matthew Houck lived in Athens, he established, practiced and honed all that makes his Phosphorescent releases successful. Though he’s lived in Brooklyn for years now, the creak of a Georgia porch still informs his tunes. It’s just coincidental, then, that the lighting scheme at Atlanta’s Terminal West last night started out all purples and greens for the first few tunes—this full-band Phosphorescent was like an Incredible Hulk-ed version of the Phosphorescent Athenians might remember, heavy rock and country rather than fragile folk.
Backed by five musicians, including keyboardist and former Athenian Scott Stapleton, Houck showed off a band that’s clearly vibing thanks to road time together. The majority of last night’s set drew from this year’s terrific album Muchacho, though a few older tunes appeared. “Wolves” and “At Death, A Proclamation,” both off Houck’s 2007 release Pride, made their way into the setlist (the only two written during his Athens time to do so). The former highlighted Houck singing solo utilizing feedback and a looping pedal for his vocals to unsettling yet mesmerizing effect, while the latter was a full-blown rock band affair.
Most of Muchacho received air time, with the packed house particularly excited for the album’s most prominent tune “Song for Zula” (what Athenian years ago would’ve predicted a Phosphorescent hit?) and the propulsively jamming “Ride On / Right On.” Houck’s penchant for unexpected (and relatively obscure) cover tunes remains intact, as he trucked out John Prine humanistic “Far From Me” and the Waylon Jennings / Jessi Colter duet “Storms Never Last,” the latter performed starkly and movingly with organ player Jo Schornikow.
Maybe I’m biased—when Houck lived in Athens, he was a friend (though, spend enough time in Athens, and who isn’t?)—but it’s gratifying seeing talent that got its start in the tiny rooms of Flicker, Go Bar and Caledonia accepted, adored, cheered and chanted along to in front of a sold-out crowd of hundreds. It’s even better when the tunes deserve the acclaim.
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