Tuesday, April 12, 2005

M. Ward, Norfolk & Western; Southpaw

It's amazing what a 7.5+ Pitchfork rating can do. Who would have thought that Matthew Ward of Portland, Oregon, aging quickly and wearing of all things a baseball cap, would have sold out dates at both Southpaw and Bowery?

It was quickly apparent that Norfolk & Western will never get that kind of review. Standard folk numbers. Standard Brooklyn opening-act attention. The same amount of talent.

Even Ward himself is a bit of a stretch live. But Sara and I made the long trek down the 2/3 to see him, and to Hell if I wasn't going to make the most of it.

On tape, Ward seems aged to fit his musical stylings. In reality his voice is neither grandfatherly nor benevolent, and he actually approaches aggression. To his credit, he did take pictures of his band for an over-eager fan/blogger. And on top of that, drummer Rachel compensated, banging those things like a Partridge kid on amphetamines.

I was alarmed when Ward began with a rather unremarkable instrumental song, and more so as he opened with the weaker tracks of his catalogue. It wasn't until half-way through that he moved into his more more compelling, lonesome works . But apparently he didn't go far enough; even after a two-song encore, fans were still scratching their heads and complaining of the short set. Personally, I'm scratching my head at their scratchings: he played ten songs, even if none of them were "Hi Fi."

I can't imagine M. Ward being a success at Bowery. Southpaw, even if it is too large a venue to be genuine, fits Ward's rootsy character. The poorly-hung Christmas lights and the failing sound system complemented Ward's unpolished, unassuming show, perfectly. The venue helped Ward construct an image, which saved the show for me. Despite any aural failures, I couldn't shake the image of a man, fresh out of bed, running around in red and black flannel pajamas. And clearly that's enough for me.

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