On the Scene: Matt Nathanson at L.A.'s House of Blues

Mattnathanson_lWhile there’s all kinds of ways to discover new artists in our fancy robot world (MySpace, YouTube, janking your buddy’s iPod), I still maintain that nothing beats the good ol’ cover song when it comes time to wander through the music woods: Shawn Colvin’s take on "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night" sending me to the store for my first Tom Waits album, for example, or how I burrowed into the Victoria Williams catalog after hearing Pearl Jam do "Crazy Mary." I like these experiences because they build a nice little grid in my mind, keep my gaze turned outward instead of just listening to the same crap all day…

… which is why Wednesday night found me at the House of Blues to see Matt Nathanson, a singer-songwriter I was made aware of this summer when Sugarland’s cover of "Come On Get Higher" convinced me to buy his sixth album, Some Mad Hope. That record sits pretty squarely in AAA/Adult Contemporary/Prime-Time TV Soundtrack turf, but in person, songs like "Car Crash" and "Wedding Dress" took on a crackling, broad-chested urgency, the thick ‘n’ meaty drum work of Konrad Meissner pushing everything just a little bit harder and making me stand on my toes to watch. Turned out Matt’s no cover slouch, either, so we got a straight-up take on James’ "Laid" (which he recorded for American Wedding), a snippet of "In a Big Country" as a walk-up to "Falling Apart," and a detour into "Kids in America" amidst "Detroit Waves." We also participated in a singalong battle of A-Ha’s "Take On Me," and Nathanson copped to the slightly "Jesse’s Girl"-inflected bassline of "Princess" before playing most of the Rick Springfield song, too. "Yeah, it’s f—ing ‘Jesse’s Girl.’ I stole it," he explained. "But I’m not successful enough to incur the wrath of Rick Springfield’s lawyers." (Such droll banter carried the night; Nathanson is nestled neatly somewhere between John Mayer and Dave Grohl on the spectrum of Self-Aware Humor as It Relates to Rawkingness of Sound.)

More after the jump, plus video of both the Sugarland and Nathanson versions of "Come On Get Higher" for your comparing/contrasting pleasure.

"This is the weird part of the show where we pretend this is the last song we’re gonna play and then we walk off stage, and you’re like, ‘F—, don’t go, don’t go!’ and then we come back out and play the two songs already on our set list," Nathanson said before "finishing" the set with "All We Are," slightly shocked joy spreading across his face as he realized the sardine-packed house was belting along. The aforementioned encore songs turned out to be "Come On Get Higher"–lyrics like "I taste the sparks on your tongue" suddenly waaaaaay sexier than when Nettles sings ‘em for the country-time family crowd–and "Answering Machine." Then he thanked us all for showing up ("I never thought I’d play a room this big in L.A.") and waved bye-bye.

"If I found a frat I’d want to be in, I’d hire him for my party," said one of my companions. I came home and immediately ordered three more Matt Nathanson albums off Amazon.

So hey, PopWatchers, what about you? Use the comment space to share cover songs that opened your musical horizons! That way we can all learn and grow together!



Comments (19 total) Add your comment
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  • Philiana

    I’ve been a fan of Nathanson’s for years now. I’ve seen him twice and both times I was blown away by his songs. Really wanted to try and catch him at the Blues on Wednesday, but didn’t work out.

  • Philiana

    I’ve been a fan of Nathanson’s for years now. I’ve seen him twice and both times I was blown away by his songs. Really wanted to try and catch him at the Blues on Wednesday, but didn’t work out.

  • Kim

    Matt Nathanson is freaking amazing, and so fun to see live! When he played the Nokia here in NYC, he did a pretty rocking version of “You Shook Me All Night Long”, and he’s also been known to do a mean version of “Don’t Stop Believing”. And yeah, he’s pretty sexy too.

  • Anonymous

    I went to college with this guy and he is a total d**che. Avoid this like the plague.

  • Scott P

    Another big Matt Nathanson fan here as well. First saw him open for Howie Day around 2001 or so, when he introduced one of his songs by saying he wrote it when he realized that Shakira’s song “Underneath Your Clothes” was written for him. He is fantastic live, although he’s getting pretty predictable at this point (I pretty much could have named all of the covers he was going to play, since he’s been doing them for 3 or 4 years now).

  • Bman

    Glad to see Matt on the PopWatch blog at EW! He’s a great artist, who has worked his tail off putting on great live shows for years, and deserves all the exposure he can get. Thumbs up! Check out his live album, it is sweet.

  • Janean

    I caught one of Matt’s shows back in 2004, and it was great! I was really excited to hear him on the radio recently and glad that others are enjoying him as well.

  • Jrtr

    I am glad you have discovered the amazingness that it Matt Nathanson. A friend introduced him to me a few years back and I have been hooked ever since. We go to his shows everytime he is in town, and every time we liken it to a religious experience. So good!

  • Jo

    To the anonymous poster above…I must disagree with you, as I also went to college with Matt. He is an amazingly loyal friend in addition to being a very kind human being and extremely talented artist.

  • sean

    try and find his covers of prince’s starfish and coffee…they are awesome!! i’ve been a fan of matt’s for years…so glad he is finally getting the attention he deserves for his great live shows.

  • Kristopher

    It is too funny…I took the exact same path to finding out about Matt and got to see him the weekend before last in Atlanta. He truly is a great live show performer and has an unending list of covers…you could spend all day watching him do covers on You Tube.

  • Shaun

    Look into Matt covering “Forgiveness” by Patty Griffin. Absolutely unbelievable.

  • Danielle

    I LOVE Matt and am so happy to see him finally get the recognition he deserves! Not only is he a talented artist who puts on a great show, but he is awesome to the fans too. I tell everyone I know about his music!

  • monica

    i love the sound of his voice.

  • Boston Fan

    Once you see Matt live, it is undeniable what a talented, passionate artist he is!

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