Phosphorescent is the musical brainchild of Brooklynite Matthew Houck who has garnered well-deserved praise as an underground indie rock force since the beginning of this decade on the merits of several solid releases. Arguably, the most notable of which is a tribute to the Red-Headed Stranger, To Willie released last year on independent label Dead Oceans.
Thanks to high acclaim for that record by Willie himself, Phosphorescent was poised to emerge from the underground into the limelight on the strength of Houck's own songwriting and the merits of his and his backing band's top-notch musicianship.
While previous albums have shown Houck's love for Americana with solo efforts that ventured into that territory, this year's Here's To Taking It Easy is more of a legit country-rock record comprised of songs that would fit snugly into any play list with the likes of Gram Parsons-era Byrds, Neil Young and The Band. And of course, there's plenty of Willie-influenced sentiments throughout.
Phosphorescent kicked off their current tour with a hometown gig in Brooklyn only to wake up the next day to find that their van and 40 grand worth of vintage gear and tour merchandise had been stolen. To everyone's astonishment, the van and all their equipment and goods were recovered by NYPD a few days later. My theory is that the thief tipped off the police himself after he opened one of the new CDs and gave it a listen. It's that good. However it happened, the band must have felt like they had witnessed a miracle that day.
Houck and Company took the stage Friday night at the beautifully restored Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff and proceeded with easy confidence into the extended intro of "Los Angeles" from the new album. Perhaps part of that alacrity was due to a new appreciation of their vintage instruments. They held them gently, lovingly caressing each note out of them to calm an anxious audience until the song swelled to its climax and receded delicately like the ebb tide of the warmest ocean. "Are you getting a lot of attention, ain't you now?" Houck repeats, and as the crowd leaned in closer and closer, it was quite clear that Phosphorescent was getting every bit of theirs.
The band flowed smoothly into two more from their recently released record. "It's Hard To Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)," a barroom boogie built on bouncy lines by ace bassist Jeffrey Bailey that provides a solid foundation for Scott Stapleton's hair-flinging piano pounding. "Nothing Was Broken (Love Me Foolishly)" is a mid-tempo number driven by the expertly understated percussion sensibilities of Christopher Marine that epitomizes the new record with its tale of longing, its careful craftsmanship and the haunting pedal steel of Dallas native Ricky Ray Jackson.
Continuing into the night, they wove a colorful sonic tapestry consisting of Willie covers, new album tracks and the forlorn folk of Phosphorescent's back catalog. Such a varied set list provided ample room for Jesse Anderson Ainslie's expert leads and the fuzzy solos of Houck's beloved 1955 Gibson ES-125.
As 12:30 neared the band left the stage but the house had not had enough and coaxed Houck back to center stage, guitar in hand. He stood under a single spotlight where he quietly fingered the strings of - appropriately enough - Leonard Cohen's "Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye." His rendition of that lonely classic evoked a newer, more profound feeling of loss and longing as every note danced on the delicate edge of pure vulnerability and whiskey fueled despair. Taking a cue from an audience member, Houck continued solo, singing "I Am a Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass All Day)" into the quiet darkness before him.
The band mates returned for a few more songs including the Joe Tex southern soul classic, "These Taming Blues." As the last song approached its final crescendo, Houck raised his guitar with one hand high above his head in triumph. He then brought it down, letting it free fall to the stage with a thud from three feet high. If that vintage Gibson survived the impact without permanent damage, then the audience too witnessed a miracle on that night.
Starting off the evening at the Kessler was The Dallas Family Band, a collective of musicians from several area bands. The dozen or so members played and swapped at least that many musical implements, singing, stomping, clapping in the middle of the theater amongst the audience members. Their exuberance and spirited performance was reminiscent of an ad-hoc folk band on the last day of church camp. Which is to say, big fun.
Shiny Around The Edges began their set with a low, distorted bass line and hushed vocals. One by one each member made their way to the stage and added new layer of resonance to create a wall of disparate sounds that seemed to make sense as they bounced around the theater. Joining the Denton trio was Nick Foreman of Dust Congress on banjo and percussion who helped Shiny churn out songs from their forthcoming record Denton's Dreaming. Based on the sounds coming from the stage on that night, that new album will turn listeners upside down on their melted faces when it comes out in September. This face is ready.
For more pics, head on over to my Flickr page.
This review was cross-posted at Subservient Experiment.