For most musicians, having the best part of your live show being the inter-song banter could be a sign to find another line of work. Matt Nathanson’s being doing it successfully for years, though, cultivating an onstage persona that is equal parts troubled, forlorn and unabashedly geeky. That only the first two characteristics are present in his songs is the bad part.
The onstage banter is not something new for him, though. He has mastered it to an art, easily weaving in an interaction with an overzealous fan that lead to a spontaneous song called, fittingly enough, “Donkeypunch.” Even though it was a joke it was paunchy and confident, the perfect foil to his songs.
Nathanson at times seems to realize these foibles. He clearly enjoys being onstage, moving along swiftly to the beat, a sharp contrast to his opening act the plaintive Cary Brothers. His live versions were much more upbeat than their album counterparts, his band clearly asserting itself and also helped by the sharp acoustics of the Canopy Club. They are still, though, sometimes underwritten: too autobiographical and sometimes unnecessary. Nonetheless, Nathanson always knows how to find a catchy melody, making even the worst of his songs fun to listen to.
What made “Donkeypunch” more surprising was that it is not Nathanson’s natural persona, which is almost the anti-rocker. He wears unassuming clothes, eschews the preening and cocksure attitude of a rockstar for a lower key love-fest with his fans. When he does becoming assuming and engaged, it’s almost brilliant. His song “Angels,” a short opener to his album Beneath These Fireworks became a power ballad live. It was lush and powerful and almost forgetful of how bashful and innocent the lyrics are.
The show peaked with his single “Car Crash,” an example of finely crafted power pop. With a full band Nathanson let go and absorbed the moment. It was a sight, different certainly from the jokey young man, and much better than any banter about his television habits.