Friday, August 29, 2008

Matthew Sweet in concert: it's all about the songs

Matthew Sweet is seen here in concert, and having his photo taken with me backstage at the Coach House after the show.

After catching Matthew Sweet's concert at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Wednesday night, Aug. 27, I'm not necessarily sure the show would have pleased everybody.

Admittedly, Sweet and his band were a bit rusty in tackling arrangements of some of the material, and at times Sweet seemed to taking care to not tax his voice since so much of the material on his latest album finds him singing at the top of his vocal register.

But did I love the show? You bet. Kicking things off with the psychedelic rock of "Time Machine," his 75-minute set featured most of the songs from his newly-issued "Sunshine Lies" album released by Shout! Factory the day before he played at the Coach House.

Before kicking off "Byrdgirl," his third song of the night, he noted the show felt like a rehearsal. And as a music writer who has witnessed more slick Vegas-styled concerts than I'll ever be able to count, the loose and rollicking Matthew Sweet show was a refreshing change. Highlights for me were the aforementioned "Byrdgirl" (my favorite track on the new album), hard-charging "Flying," Cheap Trick-mining "Let's Love" and dreamy "Daisychain."

After the show I had the opportunity to meet Matthew Sweet for the first time and he couldn't have been nicer. We chatted for 10 minutes or so and he really seems excited about his new album, and the next "Under the Covers" project he is working on with one-time Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs and that should be out next year.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Toad the Wet Sprocket to play in O.C. on Aug. 30

Toad the Wet Sprocket will perform at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday night, Aug. 30.
As the lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket, singer-songwriter Glen Phillips was instrumental in the success of one of the best alternative rock bands of the 1990s.
The Santa Barbara-based quartet – famously named after a Monty Python comedy sketch – released a string of outstanding albums last decade, including "Pale" (1990), "Fear" (1991), ""Dulcinea" (1994) and "Coil" (1997).

Although Toad the Wet Sprocket officially disbanded in July 1998, just over a decade later fans of the legendary outfit have a chance to see the melodic rock outfit when they perform a rare show at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday night, Aug. 30.

"I think we finally found the balance that makes it work for us. I don't think we could do another album; there is a certain kind of electricity that you want in a band … the reason we broke up was because we didn't have that anymore," said Phillips in an Aug. 14 phone interview from his home in Santa Barbara, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. Toad the Wet Sprocket was formed in 1986 by four students at San Marcos High School and still features an all-original lineup including Phillips, lead guitarist Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss.
The band's best-known hits include "Whatever I Fear," "All I Want," "Something's Always Wrong," "Walk on the Ocean" and "Fall Down."
Toad the Wet Sprocket may only play a handful of dates every year or two, but Phillips and the other members of the outfit remain busy.

"I think we're all pretty happy creatively with what we're doing these days," Phillips explained.
"The years have gone by; Dean has started doing compositions and voice acting, Todd is producing and recording bands in his studio, and Randy has been playing with a number of people, so everybody has really moved on."
Phillips has released a number of excellent albums in the '00s, including "Winter Pays for Summer" (2005) and "Mr. Lemons" (2006). His most recent release is "Secrets of the New Explorers," an excellent six-song concept album he released earlier this year.
"It was a pretty quick thing. I had planned to do an EP (Usually 4-6 songs) with my friend John Askew and I thought I'd have a whole bunch of songs ready and when he showed up I had nothing. And we decided 'Let's do a concept album' and I said 'What are you reading about?' and he said 'Privatized space travel' and we had both just read the same article about Robert Bigelow and the X Prize."
Phillips and Askew approached the project with the aim of completing the songs and recordings with a rocketlike speed in tune with the cosmic-minded theme of the project
"We had five days (to complete the project) and I think the first day was a complete waste because we didn't know what we were doing and then we started three of the songs," Phillips recalled.
"Three of the songs (were done) with John and three were done by myself. And I kind of finished it up and mixed it by myself. It was a really fun project. In general, I like to make records quickly."

The variety of projects revolving in his sonic universe definitely keeps things interesting for Phillips.
"I think there was a period for me mentally when I was always comparing it (Toad the Wet Sprocket) with my solo career," Phillips admitted.
"I finally realized I'm not in a rock band anymore. And this audience, they all were in college or high school when they heard these songs. It's about memories for them. (Today) I'm doing folk music – if I'm doing electronica or whatever else – but I like playing for a more engaged, adult audience. I don't feel the need to communicate through these rock 'n' roll gestures. So I finally got to really enjoy it (playing with Toad). I get to go out, play electric guitar, sing a little harder and move around a little more and it's a great night. Then I really feel really good about going back to my own stuff where the audience is listening to every word.
"But it's great to get to go back and play these songs we wrote and visit it (the past), but know I don't have to live there and it doesn't have anything to do with what I'm doing now."

For more information on "Secrets of the New Explorers," visit

Monday, August 25, 2008

Matthew Sweet is back

Fans of singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet who believe his best albums are 1991's "Girlfriend," 1993's "Altered Beast" and 1995's "100% Fun" haven't been listening to his work from this decade.

In 2003, he joined forces with Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins to release the eponymous album from the Thorns, a masterful 13-song collection recalling the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash via stunning three-part vocal harmonies and breezy acoustic rock. And in 2006, Sweet and former Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs teamed up on "Under the Covers, Vol. 1," a wonderful collection of tuneful covers from the 1960s such as the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" and the Who's "The Kids Are Alright."

Now fans of intelligent, tuneful and groundbreaking melodic rock can get ready to welcome another disc to their growing collection of favorite Sweet albums.
"Sunshine Lies," which is being released by Shout! Factory on Aug. 26, 2008, is every bit as strong as his aforementioned classic '90s releases.

"I felt very good about this record during the making of it," said Sweet during phone interview on Aug. 15, 2008. Sweet completed the recording of "Sunshine Lies" at Lolina Green Studios, his Los Angeles-area home studio.
"I'm comfortable working in my home studio now whereas earlier in the decade I was just kind of learning how to do that (make professional recordings at home)."

His 10th full-length commercial release, the 13-song "Sunshine Lies," boasts up-tempo riff rock ("Room to Rock," "Flying"), psychedelic forays (the aptly-titled "Daisy chain"), tender ballads ("Feel Fear") and shimmering power pop ("Time Machine," "Byrdgirl").
"The way this particular record took shape was an unusual trajectory. First of all, it was made over a longer period time," Sweet explained.
"Initially, it was all rock songs like 'Flying' and 'Room to Rock' and songs like that. But I kind of felt it was missing other dimensions. Almost always when I make a record I try to make sure to have a variety of kinds of things on it, so it doesn't just only represent one way."

Sweet is generally recognized as one of the great power pop architects to emerge since the 1980s. Although the genre had its share of commercial heroes in the 1970s (notably the Raspberries, Badfinger, Big Star and Cheap Trick), the Lincoln, Nebraska-born Sweet was among a handful of successful artists to bring new life to the field in more recent times.
But while Sweet's music is accessible, his recordings simultaneously offer up lush and colorful sonic arrangements rarely equaled in modern music.
"My main complaint about music now is it's so perfected that it sounds boring and canned."
Sweet noted that music fans attending the upcoming show at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano can expect to hear material off "Sunshine Lies," as well as off his well-known '90s albums.
"Those (a trio of Southern California club shows in late August) are warm-up dates for us," Sweet said. "We'll go to the rest of the country in October."

Matthew Sweet and Orange County's Fallen Stars perform at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008.

I hope to see you all there!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sports injury throws Brett Young a sonic curve

Photo credit: SEREYNA AVILA

A few years ago, Brett Young was a promising pitcher at Fresno State whose future seemed to be that of a hurler headed for a career in the big leagues.

After a serious elbow injury put an end to his goal of being a professional athlete, he had time to rediscover his love of music and has since emerged as one of Orange County's most promising singer-songwriters.

Young's self-titled debut, released in 2007, boasts an array of authentic and heartfelt songs that effortlessly mix together rock, blues, folk and soul in a way that recalls the artful approach of genre-blending heroes as Gavin DeGraw, John Mayer and Tyrone Wells.

"The only way to have longevity is to have good songs," Young said this week. "John Mayer will be around forever, like the Eagles and Eric Clapton. It's your songs."
Increasingly, discerning listeners are getting the chance to hear those songs. On Aug. 10, Young performed on an outstanding bill with Tyler Hilton, Terra Naomi, Kelley James, John West and several other artists as part of the sold-out 3 Hour Tour IV, an afternoon concert event staged on a yacht cruising through Newport Harbor.
The unique setting allowed Young to perform with many of the other performers, including Caitlin Crosby.

"It was cool," Young said of the chance to appear in front of so many music lovers in Newport Beach. "Caitlin Crosby and I were able to do one of our songs we wrote together. At the end, we (all of the musicians) did a Bob Marley song and even a Journey song."
The Westminster resident's introduction to a musical career began in the late 1990s when he was attending Calvary Chapel High School in Costa Mesa.
"I started helping the worship leader on Friday mornings," explained Young, noting his initial participation was simply playing some guitar. However, one week he was told that the leader of the band was going to be gone one Friday and he would have to lead hundreds of students in song.
"At that point, I had never sung in front of anyone. He tossed me into the fire and it didn't go half-bad."

However, while Young enjoyed singing and playing guitar, baseball seemed to loom large in his future. During his senior year, Young helped lead his high school squad to a 28-1 record and a CIF championship, going 15-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 130 strikeouts that year.
"I was playing college baseball, injured my elbow and was not able to pitch anymore," Young recalled. "Actually, Gavin DeGraw is the reason I started playing music again. I heard his first album (2004's 'Chariot') and said 'I could do this.' I followed him around and saw him 12 times. He is such a great performer and good singer."

Young is a fan of many of the artists whose styles draw natural comparisons with his own, but his sound – and songs – are clearly his own. Tracks such as the emotionally-charged "Define Me," alt country-tinged "Fly" and chiming "I'm the One You Need" strike with plenty of authenticity.
"In terms of themes, (it's usually) sadness and heartbreak. When you go through something difficult, it's much easier to write about it," Young said.
"I have to be inspired to write a song."
Young says one of the reasons he enjoys playing at intimate venues such as the Hotel Café in Los Angeles, Plush Café in Fullerton and as part of the recent 3 Hour Tour music cruise is the opportunity for him to make a strong connection with fans who love music.
"I'm very approachable and want to meet everybody."

Been Gone So Long: Mt. Whitney, other updates

I can't remember the last time I posted anything on my Blog, so some sort of excuse should be in order.
It seems like forever since I returned from the Eastern Sierras, but I do want to provide a short update on activities outside my music-listening universe.
Four friends and I scored our day permits and made the hike up Mt. Whitney on Tuesday, July 29.
Without going into every detail of the day-long hike, I will tell you we left at 3 a.m. sharp from the Whitney Portal and I arrived at the top of the mountain - 14,497 feet high - a few minutes before noon. I still can't believe it took me 9 hours to hike the 10.7 miles up the mountain, and just over 6 hours to hike down, but it did. The photo you see here was taken by one of my pals right after I made it to the top of Mt. Whitney. I didn't know if I could make it to the top; the last mile or so it very difficult and I had to stop often to catch my breath.
It was an absolutely beautiful day and incredible experience. Worth all the pain, blisters and fatigue it took to make it. I should also mention all the training hikes dating back to last year played a part too. Congrats to my friends (Tom Dubuque, Scott Tyrrell, Jon Ferguson) who made it and it was great Ron Bronsgeest made it to Trail Camp too (that is as far as I made it in 2007).