a night with the OAF by Song List Rat

The Rat gets Phosphorescent…

phosphorescentlast sunday night in sydney the rat ventured out to meet an oaf. but the oaf was not the goblin child expected but the sydney arts factory.  phosphorescent were playing there for their last show of an australian tour. phosphorescent has since its inception in 2001 been the nom de plume and vehicle for matthew houck to ply his musical vision of the world. starting in athens georgia and then moving to brooklyn new york most of his recent recorded material is recorded in his own studio.  each instrument is played by houck and layered upon each other to produce what at times is stunning music with an almost gospel church like quality. many guest musicians are then layered in at houck’s choosing. the live line up for phosphoresecent is ever changing often shifting from solo performance to large band numbers. 2013’s MUCHACHO is a mighty mighty album falling easily in the top 10 for that year. but could houck  bring that big recorded vision to the live stage. after the supporting act finished the black satin curtains were drawn closed adding to the mystery of the bands make up. then begins the slow chant of SUN, ARISE! (an invocation, an introduction) from behind closed curtains. when the curtains open they reveal the small stage brimming  full of six musicians with houck  centre stage. they kick off with A NEW ANHEDONIA followed by two other songs from MUCHACHO. with double percussionists, bass guitar, pedal steel/lead guitar, organ and houck also on guitar or just singing. the songs build and flow sounding way better than those recorded on MUCHACHO (as if that was possible). houck through it all is at heart an amazing storyteller. his  vocal timbre and quaver create an almost fragile figure. but incongruously he dominates the whole stage with his right hand protruding at times punctuating the songs like a psychologist in  group therapy getting to the crux of the emotional trauma. like a musical version of matthew mcconaughey in the hbo series true detective. and emotional trauma a plenty there is.  it’s pouring out to this amazing sound. houck is the ultimate musical shapeshifter morphing alt rock and indie and gospel and country and  gumbo. the rest of the set mixes songs from the earlier recordings of PRIDE and HERE’S TO TAKING IT EASY with MUCHACHO. the music is incessant with each musician building their own sound and rhythm onto that of houck’s. the set finishes with RIGHT ON/RIDE ON which in another time and place would be pure disco. every lumber -sexual within prancing distance is up on the dance floor.  houck comes back for an encore with just his electric guitar and plays WOLVES which showcases the juxtaposition of this fragile voice with the power of his lyrics. towards the end of the song he loops the chorus over and over playing it back at himself from the back of the audience until it appears he and we are surrounded by those wolves. it’s heady suff. next another solo ANY OLD MIRACLE where houck invites the audience to join in ” join in it will become obvious what to do” when one of the punters yells “we are not that smart” houck replies “neither am I” smart maybe not but genius yes. the full band then join for a medley of LOS ANGELES and AT DEATH A PROCLAMATION. in the end words fall short of doing justice to this phenomenal performance. but i’ll try: take off your clothes and jump into the river on a warm dark summer’s night. the phosphorescence that is left on your body hair is beautiful but ephemeral . so it is to be with this incarnation of phosphorescent for houck alludes that this is the last show they will do together. tonight we all held that beautiful firefly that dies tomorrow.

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