The lights shone a shimmering blue, each singular beam through an ethereal haze, anticipation hung in the air in a seated room, a type of assured anticipation that has come to be expected from a Scott Matthews show. Matthews had been on stage to fix his equipment and tune, before sauntering back stage to create tension before the show. Tonight is a solo set, an intimate feel in a venue size that suits Matthews. The spacious music that he creates sits well in a hall like the Bath Komedia, whilst retaining a cosy element.
He started the set off with a joke: “The first song will be performed without a guitar.” He said, his cheeky, dry wit sometimes falls on a confused ear. The audience not sure whether to treat him with reverence or a friendly banter, they eventually settled into friendly banter.
The comic air disappeared into reverence when Matthews started to play his Guild electric guitar with an Ebow, the guitar started to sing reverberate, echoed tones. Like some distant memory formed of a melancholic voice calling out amongst a constant storm. Matthews is not afraid of the space in his music in these moments, the emotions that drift up, he lingers in the sad beauty of them.
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The haunting sounds emanating from the guitar amp beautifully transitioned into Virginia, a track off of 2014’s release Home Part 1, with careful and considered use of a loop pedal. The yearning sentiment of this song of a family asking their kin to come home. Delivered with the passionate truth of Matthews’ rich, powerful, extended vocal range. Ever impressive, he manages to produce sparkling harmonic overtones over the melodic structure, and control a tender vibrato just enough to convey the longing in an heartfelt request. Extended magical moments appear when Matthews breaks off into his signature falsetto wails amongst a cathedral type reverb, his voice fills the space around you completely.
It was to set the tone of the gig, a wistful longing in the songs, many of which would be reworked into slower, bluesy renditions, mirrored in the intense concentration of the captivated audience. Matthews continued to show his astounding and varied guitar techniques. In this more intimate setting the essence of his songs shine through. The basis of guitar finger picking and the rich carefully considered melodies, all of which compliment each other. This experience is a masterclass in empathetic songwriting.
He continued with Drifter from the 2016 release, Home Part 2. Replacing the steady Tabla beat of the record with a delta blues style slide solo intro, which set the vibe for the rest of the song. Matthews doesn’t hide his love of blues music mixed with eastern influences, he incorporates some Ry Cooder style licks straight out of the 2011 album A meeting by the river.
By now, the audience were settled into the friendly banter between songs, a unique mixture of friendliness and awe, simultaneously comforted and amazed by him, and between the songs he seemed genuinely concerned by their welfare, wishing to engage with them. Matthews leaves a silence before starting each song, then sets the mood for the song with arpeggio introductions.
A backdrop of a constant simple blue lighting, fairy lights draped around the guitar amp and microphone stand, surrounded by haze, Matthews continued to show what an accomplished musician he is with a harmonica intro to Sunlight, which was trilled and complex.
The tones of each of his four guitars are different but considered, perfect complementation to the songs; rich bass notes overlaying shimmering higher strings that ring out. A Guild f-hole electric which was customised by Jamie Davey, a Guild acoustic, a Maton nylon stringed acoustic which he’s named ‘Mel’ after it’s home city of Melbourne, and a Norman twelve string; the full spectrum.
The epitome of Scott Matthews’ trust in the audience was clear when he invited two members of the audience on to stage to play the Djembe and tambourine. They performed a lilting version of Bad Apple from the 2011 album What The Night Delivers where Matthews commanded them like the accomplished front man that he is. I couldn’t help but notice that this made him seem a little nervous though.
A few of the songs in Matthews’ vast catalogue really suit this stripped down atmosphere, one of the stand out moments of the gig was a twelve string version of Where I Long To Be, from Home Part 2. It was complimented by an octave harmoniser pedal which sounded a little like euphoric whale singing. Equally as impressive was his rendition of The Rush.
I was ruminating on the differences between the full band tour of October 2016 and this show. The band created a subtle backing for Matthew’s musings, stepping up to create a wall of sound when required. The west country date on this tour was in Thekla, Bristol, a space that distracted the musicians at times with strange metallic reverberance.
The songs are undoubtedly less pushing without the full band, however they don’t lose their complete texture. There’s no crescendo in this solo show like that of the full scale progressive blues jams that the band fly off into, it’s a considered, steady performance.
A performance full of fantastic, well written songs with consideration to the true emotional essence of the music. Matthews finished off the set with the most well known of his repertoire, and arguably the best example of his incredible song writing ability; Passing Stranger and Elusive. 11 years on from the songs conception Passing Stranger still drives and imparts wisdom. Elusive is the epitome of Matthews’ spacious haunting guitar chords mixed with beautifully melodic considered lyrics. It’s easy to see why he won an Ivor Novello award for it. An unexpected extra treat to finish off the night being his new single Home and Dry which has an optimistic tone set amongst constant fast picking.
I can’t help wondering why a musician of such talent and grace is playing to a room of 400 people, still I won’t complain about getting to see Matthews in such an intimate environment.