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Posted on April 13th, 2015 (12:00 pm) by Michael Negron

Matthew Houck has being writing under the Phosphorescent moniker for fourteen years now. During that time, he’s released only one live album, “Live/Ghost Nights,” another release on Dead Oceans (whose eclectic lineup features such acts as Dirty Projectors and A Place to Bury Strangers) that barely cracks six tracks. For an artist whose work has appeared in such works as The Spectacular Now and The Amazing Spiderman 2, Live at the Music Hall is something of an overdue milestone, as scores of fans yearning to hear those soulful solo guitar renditions and faux-organ-rock jamborees live would agree.

In the tradition of many live performances Live at the Music Hall serves foremost as a fan-pleasing confection, though no doubt heavily weighted in favor of his critically acclaimed recent release. That’s not wholly unexpected, and the treatment serves the songs well; though the change in sound is relatively minute, there’s an ineffable soulfulness that is enhanced by the more intimate backdrop. Phosphorescent’s signature wistful insecurity takes center stage here, Houck's voice cracking throughout. An early moment of unbridled fervor in “Terror in the Canyon,” right before the first chorus, is a particularly powerful showcase of the band's talent for making crescendos, or just about anything else, inspirational.

Not to be outdone by his band, Phosphorescent sprinkles solo performances into a section in the middle. The first of which, “A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise,” is somewhat startling in its placement – an album’s worth of material has already gone by – but that’s not to say that it's unwelcome. It’s surprisingly effective as a quasi-intermission, and hints at the professionalism that ties together his otherwise unassuming demeanor. Such moments graze the unifying quality of great live albums: challenging the studio version in nearly every respect, and more importantly, challenging us to rethink songs we’ve heard many times before.

About 110 minutes in, truly exceptional moments like that aren’t exactly ubiquitous, but Live at the Music Hall at least meets your expectations throughout: technical proficiency akin to a metronome, mixing that is mostly satisfactory (a few spikes in vocals and ambient noise here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary for a live album), and capturing the vital spirit of what makes the music extraordinary in the first place. Does it do anything absolutely revolutionary? Not really; there’s little unexpected, nor is there the overwhelming feeling that you are part of an experience, but that’s not the aim here. There’s a subtler craftsmanship at work, forged in a down-to-earth-ness that shines through every note. Perhaps a keen bit of verbatim insight demonstrates this best: “With guys like Waylon Jennings, John Prine and even Dylan, I don't think those records would have gotten made in today's climate, because now you're allowed – or even required – to make a grand statement.” This is no grand statement. This is a refreshingly lax piece of Americana that actually feels the part as much as it sounds.

Whether you’re a diehard fan or a newcomer, Live at the Music Hall serves as more than just an anthology of Phosphorescent’s work. It’s an unintentional remix, a different way of looking at the same picture. With a track list of new and old, some quirky guest choices, and a pervasive vision of excellence, Phosphorescent proves he’s more than worth the hype.

Track List:

  1. Sun Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)
  2. A New Anhedonia
  3. Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)
  4. The Quotidian Beasts
  5. Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)
  6. Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)
  7. Dead Heart
  8. Down To Go
  9. Song For Zula
  10. Ride On / Right On
  11. A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise (solo)
  12. Muchacho’s Tune (solo)
  13. Wolves (solo)
  14. Joe Tex, These Taming Blues
  15. Los Angeles
  16. A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise
  17. South (of America)
  18. Wolves
  19. At Death, A Proclamation
Phosphorescent - Live at the Music Hall Review
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Our Rating

70 / 100
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