Ahhh the scourge of the super-single! One-hit wonders have stifled the commercial careers of talented artists since the very beginning of commercial music. Sometimes an artist writes a song so catchy and memorable that they are never able to triumph over its creative moment in time. Matthew Sweet is damn near the top of that list… His hit single, “Girlfriend,” off the album of the same name, is still in rotation to this day and represents a song so wonderfully written and poppy that it cannot be matched. A blessing and a curse, the track shot him through the roof of pop popularity, but much of the album went unnoticed to the masses. It’s a clear-cut casualty of brilliance, if you will.
But someone out there let the tape roll after the seminal hit ended (Yes… he did write other songs), and in celebration of the 20-year anniversary of the record, The Haunt in Ithaca, NY brought the 90’s alt-rocker to town for a fantastic show of nostalgic melody and 90’s bliss. The venue, a mainstay for decades (new location or otherwise) was about 1/3 full for the weekday performance, and it was a shame that there were so few people in attendance… “Girlfriend” is such a good album.
But I gotta say, the crowd that was present couldn’t have been more excited! Walking out to the stage, he gave us a brief introduction and got right down to business, performing the release in sequence… There was no room for rock star in the club. With backups from Velvet Crush’s rhythm section, Matthew Sweet performed the entirety of the album in remarkable form… He might as well have written and recorded it yesterday. And playing the oft-mentioned single third out of eighteen gave us all we needed to distinguish the true fans from the single chasers.
“Girlfriend” is the perfect 90’s album… Alt-Rock at its finest. The fantastic vocal harmonies and distorted guitar melodies were very tight, like he never left the decade. Mr. Sweet has gained a bit of weight since the release, but it’s been 20 years… We can’t all be gym-goers. His mission is music, not vanity, and he’s still putting out records. It’ll take a monster to trump “Girlfriend”, but that isn’t the point.
The album represents some of the greatest elements of the grunge era. While not as influential as some of his contemporaries, Matthew’s musical incorporation, consisting of grunge, pop, and bluesy folk, whisks the listener away. And let’s be honest… Singing about those ladies always gives an artist plenty of material to write about.
Performing the extended bonus cuts off the album’s Legacy Edition and ending with “Sick of myself,” off of his latest album “100% Fun,” Matthew Sweet did an excellent job taking us back on a fun trip to the decade of flannel and grunge. It’s nice to feel young at a show again!
A sparse yet bouncy crowded gathered for opening act A Fragile Tomorrow, and they were an excellent warm-up for the show. The 5-piece had some very well written songs, good vocal melodies, and were just an easy flowing rock band all around. Liken to the band Splender (another 90’s band that were drastically underrated), the group is leaps and bounds better than most of the indie hipster crap coming out of Williamsburg these days.
Though the new independently released record “Be Nice. Be Careful” isn’t out quite yet, I’m betting it’ll be worth a listen. Loaded with friendly, non-threatening pop rock songs, their set was a pleasure to watch. While not of the Disney variety or anything, the tunes could pass for teenage mellow drama. As an added bonus, their single “Daylight” features Amy Ray of Indigo Girls fame on vocals.
The group has a touch of Emo-Pop to them, but their roots are clearly Rock and Roll. The closing track was bursting with bluesy rock, and even with a tinge of dub. It would’ve made for a perfect 90’s alt-rock movie track. I really dug the big rock ending, too!
I got a brief chance to speak with Sean, the bass player, and he gave me a flexi-disc record and their first cd from the merchandise table… Super cool dude! I offered him a drink, but he informed me the group members are all straight edge. God bless you sober folk.