Thursday, February 07, 2008

Banter and Bayonets: Scott Matthew at Bush Hall

By far and away my favourite film of last year was Shortbus, a risqué alternative romantic comedy that explores the complicated relationships and sex lives of a bunch of New York misfits. From the same writer and director as one of mine and Ant's other favourite films (and shows), Hedwig & the Angry Inch, it was always destined to be a hit in our house. I loved the refreshingly upfront and un-contrived characters (played by largely unknown actors), who expose their darkest thoughts and fears in a series of intimate conversational scenes. There is also a lot, and I mean a LOT, of explicit sex, but it is by no means pornographic in the traditional sense. I had to try and explain this to my mother at Christmas, when she had purchased the DVD from my Amazon wishlist - initially oblivious, then subsequently shocked - as to its content. In fact, many of the sex scenes are extremely moving, sometimes hilariously funny and often just touchingly familiar.

One of the best things about Shortbus is the soundtrack; compiled from a relatively obscure assemblage of musicians; the songs often feel integral to the story, rather than simply accompanying it. The most predominant name on the soundtrack is Scott Matthew, who actually appears in the film as part of the house band at the 'Shortbus' club after which the film is titled. His emotive voice beautifully echoes the characters' bruised souls, reflecting moments of hope and despair with an impressive vocal range. In the absence of any other commercially available material, I have listened to the six Scott Matthew tracks from the Shortbus soundtrack relentlessly over the last few months, eagerly anticipating the release of his first solo album, due this March. My heart literally leapt when I saw on his myspace that there would be one UK date on the pre-album tour. It would mean going up to London, but my god, it would be worth it! The gig was last night, at Bush Hall a tiny Edwardian dancehall in W12 - all flaky ceilings and faded glory - but perfect for an intimate gig such as this - I can only imagine that St George's Church in Kemp Town could have been better.

A striking figure by virtue of his eccentric attire and untamed facial hair, an evidently jet-lagged Scott Matthew shuffles onto the stage in a manner that could easily be mistaken for pretentious aloofness, but soon transpires to be genuine awkward shyness. He looks, and sings, like someone who has experienced life's ups and downs perhaps a little more than most, and has taken it all rather to heart. My skin
is permanently tingling as he delivers one of the most haunting performances I have ever had the good fortune to attend (and I have been to a LOT of gigs) - at once fragile and determined; mellow and confrontational. The very opposite of 'easy' listening, but in the best possible way. The audience's warm reception seems to put Scott at ease, and a lovely rapport develops in which everyone is suddenly and joyfully aware that they are in the midst of a special and rare musical moment. The goosebumps turn to a lump in my throat, and then finally actual tears, with his final offering – a devastatingly heartfelt rendition of Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. Unable to move or speak for several minutes after the gig has finished, I feel exhilarated in the way one does after a good long sob.

Sadly I wasn't allowed to take photographs during the show, although this did mean that I had a totally undiluted gig experience for once. I couldn't resist taking one quick snap of the stage just before the performance though (see above), complete with a bottle of red wine which was then duly devoured during the set – only serving to endear this charming man to me even more.

Scott Matthew's self-titled debut album is OUT NOW on Glitterhouse Records:

Scott Matthew on YouTube:
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