Matthew Dear, The Rhythm Room, 10/29/12

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Matthew Dear @ Rhythm Room

Part of the reason you see musicians live is to experience their craft firsthand. Like a zoo or the ocean, secondhand exposure just doesn't cut it -- you need to see it for yourself. I went into Matthew Dear's show not knowing what to expect: he adopts assorted personas and explores many genres.

Because I'm susceptible to my own history, I most closely related Matthew Dear to Interpol. There are plenty of comparisons, starting with once touring together, the baritone vocals, similar guitar layering, the slick GQ look, the ambiguous lyrics. Interpol has been a band I've adored since age 15 and their obscure lyrics lent heavily to my own personal interpretations. The songs never changed, but the meanings did often as I grew up.

See also: Matthew Dear Discusses Liberation

Yet, when I saw Interpol in Amsterdam, they were, in a word, boring. The songs were played exactly like on their records, without any deconstruction, they mostly stood still or glanced at the ceiling, no one danced along and I wondered what I was doing there if I could just close my eyes and relive a CD quality recital.

Matthew Dear was quite the opposite. He started the show with a weird vocal thing where he recorded nonsense words, then started sampling himself as his two drummers took position and blasted into an experimental, weird performance. This isn't something you get through an MP3. Not even close.

Dear had brilliant stage presence, spasming all over the place. And he had complete control over the direction he was taking everyone, but never let on where he was going. When songs stretched into static landscapes with drones and whirrs, the crowd grew motionless, but Dear would always bring everyone back from their daze.

When he announced, "I'm Matthew Dear and we're here to have fun," you could tell he meant it. And he blew into "Earthforms" with energy and precision, evoking as much Joy Division as LCD Soundsystem. It carried into "Get The Rhyme Right" and "Headcage."

"You're all beautiful." Dear was a terrible flatterer and we still loved it. "This is the most fun I've had on a Monday night in a long time," Dear smiled. There were plenty of energetic dancers, including a girl who acted like she was sorting laundry and a guy with waggling fingers who whipped them back and forth near his ears. Paul Banks take note, This is what it's all about, guys!

But Dear wasn't just there to party. Bouquets of white roses were lashed to the microphones and Dear would periodically peel them apart. When "Temptation" ended, Dear told the crowd, "That last song was my most honest and this next one is my scariest."

He cut into "Shake Me." It nearly got tearful as slow piano spiraled into gentle guitar helixes and Dear tore the flowers frantically, throwing them everywhere in frustration as he sang, "I claimed that I was capable of freezing time ... well, I lied" and "How can you trust someone as suspicious as me ... when you knew I would turn you in eventually?" Here, Dear isn't menacing - the scary part is how bare he's expressing himself.

But we were brought back to melancholy energy with "You Put A Smell On Me" a song I knew was about kidnapping, but it finally clicked that the punny title is about chloroform. It's also my favorite Dear track, so I was more than ecstatic. Dear grabbed a light and spun it in front of his face as he convulsed. Perfect.

The crowd's energy almost peaked here, but resurged during the encore, when Dear performed "Her Fantasy" and "Fighting Is Futile." I had to leave during the last song, so I didn't get to meet the man himself, but maybe it's better that way. My interview with him was the best I've ever had.

I feel confident that my firsthand experience seeing Matthew Dear was more mindblowing than how already mindblowing his recordings are. I don't really feel like I'm lending to hyperbole, either. This was a reminder of why I shell out money and kill time for shows and I wasn't disappointed. Dear is definitely one of the most talented performers I've seen in my lifetime, but don't take my word for it. Next time he comes around, check him out for yourself. That's the point.

Last Night: Matthew Dear, Light Asylum at the Rhythm Room. The Crowd: Besides the usual hipsters, I saw a lot of people in polo shirts, including a certain performer. I will never understand the appeal of these horrid abominations some fools pay $75 bucks for at Ralph Lauren outlet stores. I went to schools that required uniforms and my experiences in retail have given polos a bad taste in my mouth.

Best Shirt: In contrast, I have to give brownie points to Shannon Funchess, Light Asylum's lead singer, for wearing a tee with that twisted Nirvana smiley-face logo, only with the text saying "Rihanna." Ha! And honorable mention to the kid with the shirt that said, "Not a DJ." Go you, whatever you are instead!

Overheard: "I don't know what to do with my hands. I can't hipster dance."

Random notebook dump: Who was that girl with the gold sequins that stole a drum stick and gave Matthew Dear a hug? Is that even cool?

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