Longtime performer Houck successfully stretches folk live

Courtesy of Phosphorescent
Courtesy of Phosphorescent

For a long time music lover, especially one who has scoured indie music blogs for nearly a decade, it’s a surprise to come across a universally praised act which isn’t new to the scene. I first heard the name Phosphorescent, the alter ego of Matthew Houck, buzzing on my Twitter feed last month and quickly assumed that ‘they’ were a new rising act.

Matthew Houck has been producing music under the Phosphorescent pen name since 2003, though he recorded and toured as Fillup Shack beginning in 2000. He had a long, tired journey to get to his sixth album, Muchacho, which was his first to hit the Billboard 200 last month. The persistent performer finished off the US leg of his album release tour last Thursday at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom – and he finished it off with a vengeance.

The nearly 90 minute set, a mix of material from his last three albums, showed that indie folk can thrive in a more traditional form even in the era of pop-leaning Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. Backed up by a raucous five-piece band, Houck hit country tones and ‘70s rock riffs to an open-minded, diverse crowd.

Shaped and grizzled as Houck is, the solo artist’s voice has a warmth akin to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon or  The Tallest Man on Earth. The set hit a sweet spot with his synth, violin and pedal-steel guitar-laden single “Song for Zula,” which would rightly turn up as a single on alt. rock radio in a perfect world.

The introspective “A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise” helped lead the way into a three-song encore that seemed to last much longer. Houck did  push his luck on “Wolves,” an unaccompanied piece which he looped his voice on top of itself over and over again electronically.

The duet which followed, a cover of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter’s “Storms Never Last,” was a full-on ode to country. The duet showed off one of his backing musicians’ sweet, tender voice for the duet.  “Los Angeles” finished off the night, a bluesy tune which is a bit more standard contemporary indie folk fare.

Phosphorescent hits the hearts of Pitchfork-wielding critics. Yet, Phosphorescent’s live set showed that he certainly isn’t serving up standard buzz ‘meat.’ The sold out, enraptured crowd ate it up.


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