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We rock the party: Matt and Kim at Northern Lights.

Photo: Julia Zave

Meet Cute

By David King

Matt and Kim

Northern Lights, Oct. 31

 

Matt and Kim, the earnest Brooklyn hipster couple who play warm-hearted songs with gigantic smiles on their faces, are almost universally described by one word: cute. But they recently told The Nest magazine that they are tired of being labeled as adorable. So the black eyes they sported as Halloween costumes Sunday night are a giveaway that the band would love to be taken more seriously, but can deal with their image in a good-natured way.

“This is our last show before the new album comes out on Tuesday,” Matt repeatedly reminded the audience in between blasting out what can be described to those unfamiliar with the band’s sound as happy versions of Nine Inch Nails’ “March of the Pigs.” Live, the songs feel polka-ish, and Matt’s synthesizer sounds are limited—they quickly wear thin. On their last album, Grand, the band found their groove with simple pounding beats, Gary Numan-style synth lines and big, cuddly choruses. Their new album, Sidewalks, sounds a bit more dangerous and electronic, as though the band are ready to be seen as something more complicated. But none of that came across on Sunday; the big beats, simple hooks and lyrics come across more as a clatter. However, their unbridled enthusiasm had an incensed, costume-clad Halloween crowd singing, dancing, and clapping along with each song.

Kim’s marathon drumming and Matt’s inclusion of nods to a number of other groups’ songs (including Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” and “Let me Clear my Throat” by DJ Kool) made the night feel like a homemade rave. The band’s enthusiasm—constantly telling the crowd that this was the best audience ever and a show they would remember forever—made me wonder if they were going to start scrapbooking in the middle of the show. Though the last time I saw the band, they claimed to be just as amazed and were going to forever remember playing in front of such a great crowd. I’m not insinuating they’re disingenuous, just that they are abnormally impressed.

The band changed up their costumes, no longer abused lovers but wearing whatever the crowd threw on stage. Matt put on an Indiana Jones hat tossed in his direction; Kim donned a wig. One girl tossed her shirt, leaving her in just a bra. Matt rejected a number of overly sweaty garments.

Matt was so amazed by the crowd’s energy level that he wanted to do something special. “We want to make sure this is one of the longest sets of the tour,” he said, and so he and Kim decided to add an extra-special treat: their cover of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” I was almost on my knees with laughter, but it was a combination of amusement about the song itself and amazement that the band thought they were doing the audience a favor by playing it.

The first song Matt and Kim ever wrote, “Silver Tiles,” has a chorus that goes, “And all our hopes/And all our friends/Through parking lots/It’s where we’ve been.” It’s not clear what the lyrics mean exactly, but they do ring with that warm friendship feeling, and that is what is made the Sunday night show so special. Matt and Kim pour their hearts out live. Their performances may not deliver the modest complexity of their albums, but with an audience that knows them, they become more than a drummer and a guitarist. They are enveloped with the love and appreciation for the crowd that shouts and claps along with them, turning their shows into a communal experience. Matt and Kim can’t do it alone—but that is the point. So they should quit worrying about being cute. They give their fans an experience that’s like staring at kitties on the Internet: Matt and Kim are something everyone can get behind.

 

Top Billing

Richard Thompson

The Egg, Oct. 30

Richard Thompson tours with an electric band every few years, generally when a new album is out showcasing that aspect of his work. His latest, Dream Attic, foregoes studio sweetening in favor of the fiery urgency of performing the 13 new songs in front of a live audience. On the recordings and this tour, his regular quartet was expanded to a quintet with the addition of violinist Joel Zifkin.

For Saturday’s concert at the Egg, Thompson and band played two sets. The first presented the new album in order, in its entirety, sans one song. With a 40-plus-year catalog behind him, Thompson’s songwriting is by now a compellingly recognizable variety of styles: If the songs are new, the terrain is familiar, which allows for easy entry for an audience, most of whom probably didn’t have the new release yet. The set, which is also to say the album, moved smartly from the world outside to the inner realm. The opening “Money Shuffle” takes Wall Street to task with deliciously Thompsonian narrative details (“I love kittens and little babies/Can’t you see that’s the guy I am/Your money is safe with me”). By the final three numbers, he was confronting loss and regret (“Another Brother Slips Away,” “Bad Again, “If Love Whispers Your Name”).

Longtime bandmate Pete Zorn shone on his arsenal of instruments (saxophones, flute, acoustic guitar, mandolin) while drummer Michael Jerome continues to be Thompson’s not-so-secret weapon, bringing jazzy wallop to jigs and atmospheric swells to ballads. They were capable of extended instrumental workouts as well as sprightly pop (“Big Sun Falling in the River”).

The second, shorter set was a tour through Thompson’s songbook. They opened with the rarely performed “Time Will Show the Wiser,” the lead track on Fairport Convention’s 1967 debut album, penned when Thompson was 17. “You Can’t Win” (from 1988’s Amnesia) showed the violin-bolstered band to be the prog-rock-meets- English-trad equal of Full House-era Fairport, while “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven” offered a supple and subtle jazzy arrangement that was never a part of the Fairport canon. The concert was a high peak in the formidable Thompson Mountains.

—David Greenberger

 

An Artist in Progress

Nikki Yanofsky

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 29

Did you know who you were at 16? Singer Nikki Yanofsky made a reputation when, at age 12, she stole the show at the Montreal Jazz Festival. The clip, which is on YouTube, shows a child with a big voice, and an excellent feel for rhythm and timing. In the four years since, her instrument has grown more impressive, her technique has advanced, and she’s grown into a confident young woman. She’s begun to figure out, however, that she has to figure out who she wants to be.

The first half of her show at the Troy Music Hall was, as advertised, jazz-centric. Yanofsky has an Ella Fitzgerald tribute album in her catalog—yeah, I know, a kid with a multi-album catalog—and she can scat and improvise with disarming ease. Backed by a four-piece band (piano, bass, drums, guitar), her advanced technique made the standards sing: “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” a laid-back “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and two tunes that should have been emotionally beyond her, but weren’t, the sardonic “Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You” and the love lament “You’ve Changed.”

The second half of the show went off in all sorts of directions. There was a witty arrangement that mashed-up Led Zep’s “Fool in the Rain” with “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” There was a charming, off-kilter take on the Beatles’ “Two of Us,” with Yanofsky capturing beautifully the song’s mix of nostalgia and hope. There were a couple of originals, one by Yanofsky herself (“Gray Skies”) and one written for her by fellow Canadian Feist (“Try Try Try”) that showed she knows her way around contemporary indie pop.

One suspects that she may wave goodbye to jazz if the right situation presents itself.

Yanofsky was totally at ease on stage, cracking jokes and telling wide-eyed show biz stories; she’s still young enough that her giddy name dropping (Al Green! Quincy Jones!) registered as age-appropriate sincerity.

The lack-of-experience issue was bound to be a problem here and there, and it’s no surprise that it was most egregious on a couple of mournful blues. The band’s arrangement of Hendrix’ “The Wind Cries Mary,” though it flattened out the original’s halting structure and odd dynamics, was perfectly serviceable, but Yanofsky plowed through the deceptively simple lyrics with R&B bravado. She did worse than that in the evening’s nadir, an oblivious, virtuosic run through Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” that ignored the song’s crafty balance of sincerity and bitter sarcasm, and, predictably, brought down the house.

The kid will learn, though. Time is on her side.

—Shawn Stone


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