Secret Meeting score: 92
by Philip Moss
Just three weeks after the release of his critically acclaimed seventh album, C’est La Vie, Matthew Houck aka Phosphorescent, rolled into Liverpool for the first of a three-night UK tour. Touring with the same six-piece band used during the recording process, New Birth in New England shuffles with bags of energy as soaring backing vocals elevate its choral refrains.
Like their contemporaries, The War On Drugs, the live show is an explosive wall of sound. But with more focus on melody, tight structures and meaningful lyricism, this is music from the heart for the heart. It’s testament to Houck’s timeless writing that new songs, There From Here – a track which depicts the open wounds he has battled over the last few years – and My Beautiful Boy – lyrically, a gorgeous ode to his newly born son – carry a sentiment that is matched by his astute ear for melody. Within a month of their release, they feel modern classics and slot seamlessly into a greatest hits set.
New song, Around The Horn, is also transformed with a double drum attack, piano stabs straight off Arcade Fire’s Funeral and more stunning, fiery vocals. This is soulful, shimmering Americana that’s clearly been informed by the greats, but is truly contemporary at the same time with flashes of autotune and sampled drum loops.
Due to curfew issues, the band played straight through into the encore, but no momentum was lost. Song for Zula, arguably Houck’s greatest composition to date, sees him freed from his guitar and its pulsating rhythm underpins yet more heartfelt delivery before he ventures into the crowd to be joined by a choir of Scouse chanting. While Ride On / Right On is perhaps the most raucous delivery of the night, with its shout-a-long chorus and inescapable groove instigating a sea of flailing arms.
Before tonight, I knew Matt Houck to be a great songwriter, but tonight’s set proves he should be considered among the elite of our age. Not only has he concocted one of the records of the year, this might just be the best gig of 2018 too.