Phosphorescent live in Sydney – Review
Despite six albums for the Alabama native-turned-Brooklynite, this would be Matt Houck and his band Phosphorescent’s first headlining show in Sydney. The alt-country act previously played the short-lived but excellent Harvest Festival in 2011 with a setlist that ran as a best of, to a relatively sparse unknowing crowd under a hot sun.
So it was with a gentle jibe that Matt asked “Where were you all last time?” to a full Oxford Art Factory on Sunday night for what would be a perfect mix of swoon and gloom, of indulgent, rich country rock.
Summoning open the drawn OAF curtains was a pre-record of “Sun, Arise” – the ethereal intro from their much-lauded record of 2013, Muchacho, before moving into the lumbering and expansive “A New Anhedonia”.
The Phosphorescent sound which has developed over more than a decade is at its mournful best when Houck’s voice, wailing, breaking and strained, combines with the guitars, steel guitar and keyboards to build thick waves which haunt and pulse.
If “A New Anhedonia” is the slow lumber, “Terror in the Canyons” is a mid-tempo, rhythmic canter plucked straight from a western film while “The Quotidian Beasts” has a similar chord progression to Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” but sounds like it took place on a windswept plain rather than a beach. They built it over an epic seven minutes into a honky tonk orchestra.
The next three songs would be spent with 2010’s Here’s to Taking It Easy. “Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)” was another that felt best quaffed with a slow gin in a dive bar while the three-minute “We’ll Be Here Soon” was jammed out, swirling into another seven-minute storm, far bigger than on record.
The delightfully cheeky “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)” is the other side of Phosphorescent, carrying a ‘let the good times roll’ mentality, full of bravado and swagger. The mentality comes out too for the very cool “Ride On/ Right On” with its easy bass riff, punctuated by tambourine shakes that sound like boot spurs and almost Michael Jackson yelps to bring the tempo back up. However, they did slip “Song for Zula” between. When released, it drew a lot of attention to the band as a single. It builds with Americana Gothic grandeur. It’s almost spiritual… And that’s what Houck does, He creates moods that build in intensity, through country and folk and southern gospel that are haunting, spiritual and at times even primal. This is no more evident than on returning for an encore, Houck takes the stage solo and releases “Wolves” on us, from 2007’s Pride. Looping guitar first and then vocals, Houck slowly creates a cacophonic chorus of howls, one on top of the other like a circle of wolves at the moon. It’s goose bump-inducing.
If that wasn’t enough he led us all in older song “When We Fall” with us punters taking the reigns on the “Oooohs”. We did pretty well for a bunch of crackly voiced, adult contemporaries.
The band return for one last song, not just for the night, but as Houck reveals, in this incarnation, possibly ever – the Phosphorescent line-up is an ever-changing beast.
They close with “Los Angeles”, the final song on Here’s to Taking It Easy – a mesmerising, hot and heady mix like those before it that wash over you in great, emotional waves.
Early in the set, a punter yelled out ‘It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before’. I’ve heard them live in one form or another five times now, in fields, on rooftops, in support and headlining but this was the best I’ve heard Phosphorescent, an act at home before the judgemental indie eyes of Coachella and its country cousin Stage Coach. Let’s hope it’s not long before a new record and a new tour.
A New Anhedonia
Terror in the Canyons.
The Quotidian Beasts
Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)
We’ll Be Here Soon
Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)
Song for Zula
Ride on / Right On
Wolves – Haunting solo
When We Fall
Review by Colin Delaney