“Like a velvet bathtub” – Phosphorescent - 5/10/11 at The Red Palace (DC)

That’s how Phosphorescent front man, and for the most part only man, Matthew Houck described his usual voice to the near sold out crowd Tuesday. Poking fun at himself and his vocal “issues” about midway through the set, it was an endearing moment that was typical of the night. His voice noticeably cracking throughout, Houck and his Taking It Easy band tore through a mostly ferocious hour and a half long set that ranged from the quietest of songs (“My Dove, My Lamb” performed solo”) to outright feedback breakdown at the end of “A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise” that echoed the best moments of Crazy Horse and their legendary band leader.

What makes this band, besides the near metal god appearance and energy of keyboardist Scott Stapleton I mean, is the fact that no matter how they choose to perform these songs, the honesty and simple truths contained within remain intact. For the majority of the show all five members were on stage turning these weird pseudo folk songs into full on 70’s rockers worthy of a Big Star album. Houck’s injured voice sounding all scratchy and whiskey soaked only added a knowing that made you wonder if these songs weren’t always supposed to sound like this. This being the first time I had seen Phosphorescent, it was as refreshing as it was welcomed.

METAL!!!

About  three quarters the way through the night, The Taking It Easy band left the stage to Houck to perform mostly solo. Joined by Family Band’s Kim Krans on the song  “Endless Pt. 1” off of Aw Come Aw Wry, and then briefly by his aforementioned metal god keyboard player on an electrifying version of  “Wolves” from his 2008 album Pride, Houck turned down the volume but not the energy. If anything, his charisma and charm, which allowed him to pull off a key/capo change right in the middle of “My Dove, My Lamb” and receive only a mild chuckle from the audience, managed to fill the space that had once been occupied by the screech of feedback and the pounding of drums.  After a few more solo numbers, the rest of the band finally returned to stage to close out the show, ending with an absolutely devastating version of the song “Los Angeles” that sent the crowd home entertained if not slightly unsettled.

If there is a bad part to be found in Phosphorescent’s performance Tuesday night you would have to dig pretty deep to find it. But there was a definitely a noticeable lack of (and by lack of, I mean zero) songs performed off of Houck’s 2009 album, To Willie. If you are going to go to the trouble of putting out an album made up of entirely Willie Nelson covers,you might as well embrace it. But it wasn’t a horrible omission, and one that was easily overlooked given the power of the performance as a whole.

So all said and done, what we got Tuesday night was a fantastic show from a versatile group of musicians that left me completely satisfied yet wildly intrigued to know what Houck is going to do next. He’s got a damn fine band working with him at the moment, and he might do well to include them in his next project, but wherever his muse takes him, it will take him. 

Either way, every time Matthew Houck opens his mouth to sing, we’ll all still be able to feel really good about feeling really bad.

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