Matthew Sweet fans had plenty to be excited about. Almost exactly one year to the day after his third straight sold-out appearance at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill, one of the planet’s finest purveyors of power pop returned to town in the much more spacious confines of the Delmar Hall (and still managed to pack them in). He was touring on the back of last year’s Tomorrow Forever, his strongest album in well over a decade and the result of a flash of creativity so potent it birthed a sister album of outtakes, the recently released Tomorrow’s Daughter. With a killer set of songs to play and a great room to play them in, the enthusiastic crowd was primed to have a night of 100% fun. Fate, unfortunately, was ready to throw a fairly major hitch in the proceedings.
Sweet kicked off the show with three very different songs from three very different eras in his career. First came the country jangle of “Time Capsule” from the 1993 classic Altered Beast. Next, “Byrdgirl” (from 2008’s Sunshine Lies) came in with the (obviously) Byrdsian chiming guitars that marked Sweet’s early hits like “I’ve Been Waiting.” And third came “Pretty Please,” a roaring piece of stomping guitars that is one of the highest peaks on Tomorrow Forever.
After that threesome, Sweet mentioned to the crowd that he was losing his voice. This fact was plainly evident when Sweet clearly warbled as he tried to talk, especially in a few chuckle-worthy back-and-forths with drummer Ric Menck as the two tried to find a happy medium between Menck being able to see his drums and Sweet not having to sweat out whatever virus he was fighting under the glaring stage lights. (“Can you at least turn down the bright white light?” he joked, standing in the aim of a particularly harsh spotlight. “Or at least make it a color?”) Impressively, his malady was not as evident in his singing in the early going, as he shifted up or down within his range to hit the spots that didn’t irritate his throat, or took on more of a Lou Reedesque style of speak-singing around the usual melody. The latter approach worked especially well on the twisty-turny “Divine Intervention”—a song, it must be noted, with a guitar riff that you never quite realize how insane it is until you see Sweet’s fingers dancing all over the fret board in person. (How he sings while playing it is beyond me, but we already knew the man was a musical magician.)
Entering into the middle portion of the show is where things started to get a bit shakier. The morose ballad “Someone to Pull the Trigger” started out rough vocally, but it ultimately fell into its usual place of evocative, melancholy beauty. Things deteriorated further on “Trick,” a Tomorrow Forever highlight that Sweet and his backing band nailed instrumentally on every level but its higher register challenged Sweet’s aching throat. Ditto “We’re the Same,” another ‘90s classic where Sweet’s voice wavered through the verses yet somehow hit the target on the falsetto chorus.
Despite clearly feeling under the weather, though, Sweet kept pushing, and his crack touring band (whom he thanked profusely, adding “I’ve had to lean on them a lot tonight”) pushed right along with him, putting in stellar performances throughout. Bassist Paul Chastain offered support with his smooth backing vocals and tight low end, while Ric Menck is a powerful drummer who hits his snare with punishing force yet his playing never loses its swing. The lead guitarist was responsible for a number of fiery solos, particularly on the brand new Tomorrow’s Daughter track “Show Me,” a heavy song played closer to a dirge pacing that served as a nice change of pace as the show entered its back half and allowed for a lengthy, particularly attention-grabbing solo.
While Sweet remains chiefly a cult artist, he has his share of “hits” that the fans are there expecting to see, and he saved them all for a one-two-three punch to close the night. “Girlfriend” was its usual power pop perfection, “I’ve Been Waiting” inspired an ecstatic crowd singalong, and “Sick of Myself” brought the show to a stomping, suitably sweet finale, including the obligatory multiple false endings. But by the end of the song, it was clear Sweet was spent. There would be no encore.
The crowd, or at least the true believers crowded around the stage, took it all in good stride, with the occasional shouts of “We love you!” and “Thank you!” punctuating the between-song silences. Ultimately, it was impressive just how hard Sweet pushed himself to give St. Louis a good show; comparing entries on Setlist.fm, we got the same show as Evanston two nights before, less the encore. (Granted, that encore did contain Sweet’s absolute best song, “Evangeline.”) The next night’s show in Nashville would get rescheduled for August. In the grand scheme of things, we got a batch of nonstop killer tunes played by a band firing on all cylinders, with vocals that were hit or miss. I still left the venue elated. On balance, I’d call that a pretty great Saturday night.
Opening the show were the Astounds, a band whose power pop shows major potential. The band is clearly very new to the game, as there was a lot of—probably too much—jokey between-song banter and some rough patches, including a false start. The group is clearly musically talented and their songlist was dripping with hooks; if they manage to tighten things up a bit, this could really be a band to watch. | Jason Green
Someone to Pull the Trigger
We’re the Same
You Don’t Love Me
I Belong to You
I’ve Been Waiting
Sick of Myself