Review and photo by Ashley Hizer
My career as a freelance scribe was christened years ago by the arrival of The Weight of Flight, the sophomore EP by multi-instrumentalist Matthew Houck, under the tag Phosphorescent. The haunting neo-folk effort that grew on me put the Alabama-born but Athens-based act on my radar, and I’ve followed his rite of passage into alt-country territory—and migration to Brooklyn ever since. Needless to say, when I learned of Phosphorescent’s stop at The EARL, I knew it was a one-night sojourn I must add to my calendar.
Atlanta-based artists Oryx and Crake welcomed the seemingly dedicated guests who traded their Mother’s Day supper for folky electro-pop, which included their very own musical mamma Rebekah Goode-Peoples (to whom husband frontman Ryan Peoples affectionately gave a shout out). As the PBRs continued to pop, Family Band (and ironically, another band including espoused band members) dramatically shifted the mood with their brooding, ambient sound.
An immediate flood stepped into the bare venue, and Houck and his four-piece Take it Easy Band arrived to an enthusiastic applause. After a dedication to his recently-devastated home state, they began with an upbeat ode: “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” from last year’s endeavor, Here’s to Taking it Easy. Contrasting prior releases that evoke a melancholy tone, Phosphorescent’s opening tune showcased twangy blues matched with his hurried, disheveled vocals that, by the way, just work. At least according to the raging crowd, which included a dancing devotee who might as well be in front of his bedroom mirror. But perhaps even upstaging the frontman on the song is keyboardist Scott Stapleton whose long locks were whipped into a frenzy when he played.
Next, Houck moved his way to “Dead Heart,” a downbeat ballad from 2005 release Aw Come Aw Wry. Beginning with his dilatory, cracked vocals, it transitioned into a chorus of harmonies demonstrating his band members varied abilities that left the audience mesmerized. Following this was “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly),” to which he bobbled his head of thinning blonde curls, and the older “Not a Heel,” during which he passionately sang the lyrics in unison with his followers who watched on. One highlight of the evening was the sultry southern sound of “The Mermaid Parade,” which speaks of broken love and distance over swelling guitar. Several songs and beers later, the band disappeared to a cheering throng, and sure enough, a few minutes later, Houck appeared sans band. For the encore, the Dead Oceans artist broke into somber “My Dove, My Lamb” and “Wolves,” both off Pride, then “Tomorrow is a Long Time” by the legendary Bob Dylan, to whom he’s been compared. A few minutes later, his ensemble of sweaty men returned to their platform, and he politely requested a shot of whiskey; unbeknownst to everyone in the room, he was crooning with a stinging throat. But the prescription seemed to work — “Los Angeles” was just the anthem to send everyone home satisfied with his imperfectly perfect performance.