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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

With a waggle of the hips, Matt Nathanson charms

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

Matt Nathanson—born March 28, 1973 (which makes him 38 and unfortunately too old for me)—is an American singer-songwriter who has toured with Sugarland, Train and currently Vanessa Carlton. He is San Francisco-based and has built up a pretty avid following during his years and years of touring. His songs have been played on hit television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.” For those who have never heard of him, he wrote “Come On Get Higher,” a platinum-selling song that is one of those songs you hear without knowing when you first heard it. Other than that one song, however, Nathanson has managed to fly mostly under the radar when he deserves to be constantly thrust into the spotlight.

I am an avid Matt Nathanson fan. I own every song he’s ever written, which totals in at about 83, some written in the year I was born (I wouldn’t recommend buying those old songs though—they’re mainly moaning with some guitar playing). I started listening to Nathanson in high school, when his deep lyrics seemed to connect ever so well to my not-so-complicated high school relationships. Now, I love Nathanson for his collection of songs so complete I can listen to them in whatever mood I’m feeling. The result of all this adoration resulted in my father and me taking a trip last Saturday to the House of Blues in Boston to see Nathanson. Despite the slight awkwardness of being in a bar with my father, I completely enjoyed the concert.

Nathanson is currently touring his “Modern Love” album. According to Nathanson, from both the concert and his online blog, it seems to have been mostly inspired by a friend’s relationship problems with love in the modern age. Nathanson is concerned with “Where does love live in the future?” and answers this with his songs “Room @ the End of the World” and “Bottom of the Sea.” Other songs came from less philosophical questions: “Queen of (K)nots,” for example, is an angry answer to an ex-girlfriend.

What amazed me was the difference between Nathanson’s live rendition of “Modern Love” and the album. The songs on the record sound poppy, almost as if they try too hard, whereas the live performance actually played very well onstage. Indeed, “Faster,” the single from the album, which I believe, sorry Matt, was written simply to get radio time, was quite uplifting live. What also amused me about his live playing was the sheer amount of guitars he used. In setting up his stage, he displayed approximately 12 different guitars, all of which he proceeded to use throughout the show. The members of Nathanson’s band must not be ignored; he has another guitar player, a bass player, a drummer and a keyboard player. The other guitar player especially also sings back-up vocals and possesses a very soothing voice. He and Nathanson did a lovely cover of a Simon and Garfunkel song that actually gave me goosebumps.

Nathanson is from Lexington, Mass., which made his comments about Boston all the more truthful. Usually I dislike it when artists constantly shout “WHAT UP BOSTON!” but in this case I could see the concert actually hit home for him. Another thing to note about Nathanson is that his songs are very sensitive, usually dealing with innermost thoughts that normally one would not reveal to another person. This contrasts very strangely but amusingly with Nathanson as a stage performer. He is actually very funny, making sly crude jokes and waggling his hips around before singing his sincere songs. In this particular instance I could have done without some of the sex jokes (concert with my dad, yeah) but overall the contrast only made him a more interesting person and performer.

Nathanson closed the night with his encore of “Suspended,” a reflective song, to which the crowd sang along. I personally was very pleased with this because I had voted online for this song to be his encore; kudos to Facebook and the Internet. In general, Nathanson is as funny as he is sincere, just as his music can be both haunting and uplifting. If all you’ve heard is “Come On Get Higher,” you are missing out.