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Matthew Sweet
Live at Rockefeller Aug. 18th 97

Jet-lagged and dizzy after a 3 hour gin & tonic-soaked flight from London, Håvard O and I headed for Rockefeller, Oslo's main concert stage for over 10 years, to catch Matthew Sweet on his first visit to Scandinavia. Bill at Minus Zero Records told me that his show the previous Wednesday in London was a real treat, so I was really excited, eventually getting to see one of the finest pop songsmiths of the nineties live.

I must admit that Matthew's latest record, Blue Skies On Mars was a bit of a disappointment, not least because of the absence of Richard Lloyd's blistering and electric guitar (I don't miss Robert Quine that much). On this tour, as he has earlier, Matthew is using musicians from Velvet Crush, an obvious choice if there ever was one. Both drummer Ric Menck, who has played on all of his LP's except Inside, and guitarist/keyboard player Paul Chastain has known him since the days of Buzz Of Delight (Matthew's second recording band, a duo with him and David Pierce. Just for the record: His first recordings was made by Oh-Ok, and featured Linda (sister of Michael) Stipe and Linda Hopper, later of the underrated Magnapop. Sound Castles, a mini-album on DB Records by BoD was released in 1984 - a couple of unreleased recordings does exist. Oh-Ok released Furthermore What on DB the previous year; cover photograph by Michael Stipe! Hint to Sweet addicts - you will probably be asked questions about this at your Christmas exams - Furthermore What is the better of the two, but Sweet's vocals can only be heard on Sound Castles. So there). Sweet produced Velvet Crush's first 1991-LP, In The Presence Of Greatness (it was recorded in his 8-track home studio. I just have to mention that collecting Matthew Sweet records is probably just as easy as collecting recordings featuring Velvet Crush members. But I digress, bass player and lead guitarist was (as on earlier tours) Brad Jones (I think) and Ivan Julian (I'm sure), respectably.

It kicked off with Come To California from his latest album, and I felt at once that this was going to be a great evening. I was right - the band was really tight; it's apparent that Sweet and Velvet Crush enjoy each others company and songs. I have to mention Ric's superb drumming throughout the night and Paul and Brad's backup vocals was excellent.

We got to hear about half of Blue Skies On Mars, The Ugly Truth and Someone to Pull The Trigger from Altered Beast and 3-4 songs from Girlfriend, Matthew's grande fourth solo album (and my favourite, by the way). And only one from 100 % Of Fun? After 70-75 minutes, the band went off, but the 600+ crowd wanted more. And did we get more... Matthew came in alone with an acoustic guitar, and when he started You Don't Love Me, I was as close to heaven as an agnostic possibly can get. A couple of more encores with the rest of the band ends with some fabulous feedback work not heard since Thin White Rope at Sardine's in -88 - WOW!

When they come back, Sweet tells us that the official concert now was over, but as they were so pleased with both the evening and the refreshment BMG Records had provided for them, they were not finished yet. Oh no. They did a couple of cover songs, starting off with Do Ya by 70's era The Move. Do Ya by The Move! I was shocked (and stunned, as Barry Wom would have put it). This is perhaps the perfect cover song for Matthew Sweet - he is in many ways more British than American in his own songwriting. Matthew puts on his Jeff Lynne vocals (no, not the Jeff Lynne glasses) and he is Jeff Lynne for about three minutes - just perfect!

The second cover song is not a Travelling Wilburys song, but Teenage Kicks. I must admit that no artist does this song as good as The Undertones, but Sweet and his band do a honest attempt to re-create the creeping desperation of the original. We got another round of encores, 4-5 probably, lot of them from Girlfriend, and in the end I think they played nearly the whole album. I guess Sweet himself has a liking for the album, too.

I could see that Ric and a couple of the others was ready to say nighty-nighty, and they got their will. The crowd was still lively, but the sedate, middle-aged rock buffs raving along with the 20-somethings up front (a rare, and dare I say, sweet sight) had to face the end. And I don't think anyone missed Mr. Lloyd.

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