Good Show Hunting

Matt Good drifting aimlessly into a sweaty abyss.
Matt Good drifting aimlessly into a sweaty abyss.
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Matthew Good @ A.J.’s Hangar

As I stood outside A.J.’s Hangar after Matt Good’s solo show on the balmy night of June 2nd, soaking in the post-concert atmosphere, I felt decidedly odd. Something was missing.

Usual throng of post-show smokers huddled outside: check. Personal sobriety intact: check. This, although unusual, was not the root of the queer, unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. At last I pinpointed the cause of my lassitude: I was in mourning. I had just witnessed the death rattle of the career of Matthew Good—formerly one of Canada’s brightest musical hopes, now doomed to the downward spiral of stifling mediocrity and eventual obscurity. And for the exorbitant cost of a $23 ticket, mediocrity just doesn’t cut it.

That being said, the night began with promise. Mr. Good has always had a particular knack for choosing opening acts with panache and overflowing artistic potential—bands that in fact, often show more ingenuity than Good himself.

Good showed that he still had great taste in opening acts at A.J.’s with his inclusion of Calgary’s dirtiest little secret, Wil. When the bespectacled, stocky frontman trotted onstage—looking like the love child of Elvis Costello and John Belushi—he seemed, well, less than imposing. Then he opened his mouth and began frantically fingering his guitar strings and pounding the body with barely harnessed violence. I’d like to think that the giant roar that followed wasn’t merely feedback, but the sound of the audience’s hearts collectively shooting up into their mouths.

Within five minutes of his forty-five minute slot, Wil had all eyes glued to him—no easy feat in the distracting, milling cattle barn that A.J.’s invariably becomes during concerts.

Largely performing tracks from his debut EMI album, Two Hands, Wil demonstrated an unrelentingly terrifying intensity throughout. His songs spoke of mouthfuls of whiskey in the backwoods, interspersed with frenetic slide guitar solos and finger-plucking frenzy. His voice was a hearty, soaring tenor whose occasional droop and drawl recalled the vocals of Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

Then Matt Good came onstage.

The former frontman of the Matthew Good Band has still maintained his wiry energy since his band emerged to kick Canadian alternative music in the ass with 1995’s respectable, Last of the Ghetto Astronauts, and the wildly successful subsequent releases, Underdogs, and Beautiful Midnight.

Since his days with the band, however, Good seems to have lost a bit of his edge. His political rhetoric, embraced by some, abhorred by others, has become increasingly preachy, and his famously ornery feuds with rock writers and other musicians is as entrenched in his legacy as his music. If one was inclined towards melodrama, one could say that this tour was Good’s last waltz, in a sense: a chance to redeem himself to fans who had lost the faith, and to win over unfamiliar skeptics.

Good began the show on a high note with his superlative backup band, including former Good Band bassist, Rich Priske, launching straight into the best songs from his solo debut, Avalanche. Songs like “21st Century Living” and “Near Fantastica” had the audience going wild, replete with screams of approval and plenty of beer splashing from raised glasses and bottles.

The peak moment of the night for Good came relatively early on when he performed the popular single “Weapon.” No matter what you might think of Good, the song is inarguably one of the most moodily evocative Canadian singles of recent memory. During the song, Good’s trembling vocals were showcased at their most vulnerable best. The lighting burned into every retina, and the band virtually exploded during the song’s incendiary climax. That’s when things began to go a little downhill.

Good chose to follow up the newer material with his hits from the glory days with the Matthew Good Band—three of them in a row. As pleasing as it was to hear “Hello Time Bomb,” “Load Me Up” and “Apparitions” all in one go, and as much as the audience went frantic with recognition, the songs would have been far more effective in maintaining the show’s momentum had they been interspersed throughout the set. When Good finally launched into some of the slower material from his latest album, White Light Rock and Roll Review, it became evident that for most of the crowd, the show was virtually over.

As the unfamiliar strains of “Blue Skies Bad Lands” and the encore song “Ex-Pats of the Blue Mountain Symphony Orchestra” sailed dourly over the crowd, people began to loudly converse and fall into acts of drunken belligerence.

Although the crowd’s increasing distraction was entertaining in itself, it also showed that Good simply does not have what it takes to sustain the momentum of his live fervor. Whether it was due to his poor arrangement of the set-list, his soapbox preaching about Iraqi soldiers, the shitty acoustics at A.J.’s, or the poor concert set-up in general, something was decidedly amiss here.

As the crowd hurriedly crushed each other to get outside after the show, the sadness overtook me, and I briefly contemplated how Matt Good—a smart guy, a good musician, a passionate person—could so quickly begin a plummet to obsolescence. It is the curse of the Can-Rock solo careerist to gradually become unable to replicate the dynamism originally produced by the far-better bands that preceded them.

Matt Good will coast on the dredges of his fame for awhile, but in the face of far more innovative and interesting Canadian musicians like Metric, Arcadefire and even Wil himself, Good will soon be walking into the realm of musical dinosaurdom, where the likes of Edwin and David Usher will no doubt embrace him with open arms.

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