Release Date: Feb 17, 2015
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Folk, Alternative Folk
What’s perhaps most striking about Phosphorescent’s live album is just how intimate Matthew Houck’s vocals manage to sound. In the studio, there’s an inviting warmth that burrows deep into the listener’s ear; an organic pleasantness that sounds both well worn and comfortably familiar. Live, this same inherent quality is present in his otherwise unaffected vocals.
With his 2013 album Muchacho, songwriter Matthew Houck broke some new ground with his long-running Phosphorescent project, bringing new clarity and drive to his country-tinged indie songs and arranging them with a fantastic balance of atmospheric production effects. The album was loved by fans and critics alike, and Houck took his live band on a globe-trotting eight-month tour, ending up where they began in their home city of Brooklyn, New York with a four-night stand at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Live at the Music Hall is very much a live album in the tradition of classic '70s live albums by roots rock and stadium acts alike.
Of all rock 'n' roll’s tropes and traditions, is the official live album the most meaningless? There's a certain we-made-it hubris to it, an assumption that people not only care enough to see you perform but that they wish to relive the experience in the privacy of their own homes, too. It’s not enough to simply press "Record" and play: If you’re going to issue an onstage set, you’d better make sure that the band behind you is rehearsed, that your catalog is fit to be culled, and that every factor in the room, from the amplifiers to the engineer capturing it all, is ready to be immortalized. What’s more, the band had better be prepared to be more than a mere traveling karaoke machine.
Phosphorescent — Live at the Music Hall (Dead Oceans)Phosphorescent’s studio albums showcase Matthew Houck’s songwriting ability, but a live album, by its nature, focuses on performance. This triple album set, recorded over four nights at the Music Hall in Williamsburg, open up Houck’s songs in an exhilarating way. Reimagined by a really excellent seven-man band – that’s Houck, Rustine Bragaw on bass, Christopher Marine on kit and David Torch on auxiliary percussion, Jo Schornikow on organ, Scott Stapleton on piano and especially Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel — the material is louder, rougher and more exuberant here than on Phosphorescent’s studio albums.
Live albums: little more than lazy cash-ins featuring sound-alike read-throughs of ‘the hits’ that target only the most gullible of an act’s fan base or stop-gap releases issued when the creative engines run on fumes, right? Wrong. Gaze back to the supposed golden era of rock and you'll encounter many gate-sleeved live opuses that capture their legendary, born-to-play-live subjects at the peak of their powers and in their element. Considering the level of inspiration Matthew Houck (the Alabama-born but Brooklyn-based songwriter at the center of Phosphorescent) has drawn from the titans responsible for, say, Live Rust (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, 1979), Rock of Ages (The Band, 1972) or Bob Dylan’s underappreciated warts-and-all angst-fest Hard Rain (1976), it's only fitting his loose collective has now joined the lineage of double live albums upheld in fine style by Wilco (Kicking Television, 2006) and My Morning Jacket (Okonokos, 2007) in more recent years.