Matthew Sweet Pulls the Trigger in St. Louis
J. Gordon
6/28/2009 10:12:54 PM

“And everything I’ll ever be, I’ve been.” –Matthew Sweet, from “Someone to Pull the Trigger”

If you’ve been wondering if those unforgettable Matthew Sweet lyrics are the truth now, fear not. Matthew Sweet may not be playing to thousands any longer, and he may not be reinventing sound, but he’s still producing ridiculously catchy, great pop songs that ensure his career ought to span at least another decade.

Opening his sold-out St. Louis date at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room this June with “Divine Intervention”, Sweet also has the good sense to dish out the hits and give the audience what they want. Specifically, that’s loads of tracks from Girlfriend, 100% Fun, and Altered Beast, with a dip into some of his fun, psychedelic-tinged new stuff from the forthcoming Sunshine Lies [Shout! Factory].

All in all, the evening had a straight-up, yet still cool and energetic rock-and-roll sound (especially when he dove into the second song, “Room to Rock”*). And that vibe is straight out of Sweet’s best era—Girlfriend—one of the last pop holdouts before Grunge wiped everyone off the face of the map. Fortunately, Sweet messes things up a little bit with distortion and some wandering riffs, to keep us interested today.

The room happily rocked with him into the next song, “We’re the Same,” and forgave him the fact he can’t hit the high notes any longer. Which really, is just as well. Those weren’t the good songs anyway. Next up, the Duck Room was dancing to “Time Capsule”, “Ugly Truth”, and "Someone to Pull the Trigger". The band was tight, but that’s a given, as they were his buddies: the extraordinary Velvet Crush, with Pete Phillips on guitar, drummer Ric Menck, and Paul Chastain on bass since Sweet’s long-time regular guy, Tony Marsico, was sick. “We all almost died of Swine Flu,” said Sweet from the stage, a tone so earnest you might think he really believed it.

It’s no secret that popularity has waned for Matthew Sweet, who once easily sold out the old Mississippi Nights (R.I.P.) every time he came through town in the nineties. This time, there was no big sparkling tour bus in the back of the club. Sweet, like so many of his old fans in the audience, is a bit heavier and older nowadays. And, like the process of passing in life from the late twenties to the thirties and then forties itself, he’s also grown up enough to be disinterested in caring about the garb to create a false rock persona; any bullshit pyrotechnics; disinterested, depressive vocals; or whatever else the alternative-indie crowd is pushing these days. Matthew Sweet knows what works for him, and he does it flawlessly.

Which brings us back to the show. The fact is: when a performer gives his all, and when he does it with songs that have been loved rabidly for almost two decades, well…he can’t go wrong. Everyone feels the love. “This is awesome. This is the best I remember, here tonight,” said Sweet.

The highlight of the evening was a surprise: “You Don’t Love Me” from the Girlfriend album. How could this somewhat unassuming song have taken on such a new shape? Sure, it’s the same structure and melody. But this time, it had a bite. In fact, there was no pity-party here. This translation was deliciously pissed. And then, if there was any doubt about pain, Sweet roared at the end. It was a heart broken, and then broken again. It was a lifetime of anger and hurt, curdling on the edge of the most gorgeous rhythm. It was a howl from the depths of someone whose soul has seen the evils of the record industry and survived it. Wicked! Wow.

“Light one up!” Sweet told the audience more than once, always clarifying his praise was for weed and not of nicotine. Next, he gave the venue “I’ve Been Waiting,” followed by a delightfully kicking “Sick of Myself” with all the false-ending fun that he used to do back in the day.

Ah, but a Matthew Sweet show without an encore would be like one with no guitar. It simply doesn’t happen. He and the band came back out a final time to do two fun covers: first, Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” from his album of 1960s covers with the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs; and finally, Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes,” which got very silly. It was evident the band was having as good a time as the audience. Oh, but why did they have to stop at an hour’s worth of [100%] fun?

Perhaps to leave us wanting more. Rest assured: everything he’s ever been—Matthew Sweet still is.

*Hear it on his MySpace page,


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