One look at Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent and his four-man backing band, and in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and on through today they would instantly be identifiable as a Rock ‘N’ Roll band. Each had a healthy road beard and well-worn shoes. Their hair was long and unwashed and their shirts had that not-exactly-fresh from the laundry look. Bottled domestic beers dotted the stage. And as they gathered for their first number — Taking to guitars, drums, keyboards and pedal steel, their posture communicated a mix of weariness and confidence. Yes, life on the road is rarely as glamorous as it seems, but look at us, we could never be bankers or lawyers, office workers, or on the factory line. We can, however, play these instruments and we can play them damn well, thank you.
Then, with one near, nine-minute song, all that emotion was given a sound — Houck and his slightly worn, yet still smooth voice, showing a hint of honky-tonk; His band, deliberate, clear and precise, but not without feeling. It was a sound and a song, “Los Angeles,” whose hints of southern-rock, country, and folk filled the Grog Shop with longing and loss.
The six-strings of Houck and his second guitarist would stay solemn through “It’s Hard to be Humble (When Your From Alabama),” and “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly),” both from the band’s most recent release, Here’s to Taking it Easy. The pedal steel and the keyboards, meanwhile, wept at their side. A shout from the crowd implored, “Play something happy!” A sheepish Houck plainly replied, “I’m sorry. We don’t have many of those.” When the same voice, a couple songs later would demand, “Play something fast,” one could see the eyes of the band light up, and Houck, again with his slight drawl, jokingly addressed the boys, “Settle down, Phosphorescent.”
No, Phosphorescent didn’t have happy. Nor, did they have fast in their repertoire. They did have a couple Willie Nelson tracks (“I Gotta Get Drunk” and “Turn Out the Lights”), however, and they did have that amazingly full sound which reappeared on “Wolves” and “A Death, A Proclamation.” The latter swirled gloriously about the room with the force of a full psychedelic rock band. It was sad, but oh, was it the most wonderful kind of sad one could have. It was like a moment of release after a long, tough week, like a sunset at the end of a Western movie, or, that one glimpse of a hopeful rest while knowing tomorrow will be another long ride and another night on the road.
Locals, Lowly, the Tree Ghost, jumped to the middle slot on the night after a death in the family forced J Tillman from the tour. While technically proficient enough, and while their boy-girl harmonies were good enough, their performance, a slow and morose of flavor folk-rock was joyless and flat. They needed more emotion. They needed more guitar licks. They needed to look like they at least wanted to be on that stage. They needed more anything besides standing fixed to the floor, looking all doe-eyed out at the crowd.
Jumping to the opening slot were a new Cleveland band, Herzog, made up of folks you’ve more than likely seen in old Cleveland bands. They managed to hit a sweet spot between slacker-rock and power pop — More lively than a Pavement or Sebadoh, but not as polished as many proper pop bands. Plus, it never hurts to throw in a cover of The Mice (“Not Proud of the USA”) in your early set. Even if you bomb (Which Herzog most certainly didn’t), you know you’ll have the attention of long-time scenesters for those two or three minutes. Herzog did better than that. They showed they have the ability be an undiscovered treat for any gathering crowd.
Phosphorescent Setlist: Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH. 08.07.2010
1. Los Angeles
2. It’s Hard to be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)
3. Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)
4. The Mermaid Parade
5. A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise
6. I Gotta Get Drunk
7. The Party’s Over
9. Joe Tex, These Taming Blues
10. At Death, A Proclamation