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Phosphorescent closes out in style

Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, Mass., August 15, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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This was the final night of the tour for Phosphorescent, a Brooklyn-based band (person?) featuring Matthew Houck at the helm playing what mostly is alt.-country music even if few willingly accept that mantle these days.

There aren't a lot of songs leaving you expecting to hear them on some commercial radio station, but that was not fault of the band's. Houck doesn't have the most dominating of voices (see J Tillman below), but he is earnest in his approach to the music.

With help of a five-piece backing band, Phosphorescent dished out music with a lot of pedal steel guitar, giving a lot of country edge to the music with some of it downright country and piano from Scott Stapleton. The most obvious country song was Too Sick to Pray, from 2009's "To Willy," a Willie Nelson tribute disc from Phosphorescent. One could hear Willie singing the song no problem and Houck did it justice. It also proved to be the shortest song of the 80-minute set.

Starting with the first and well put together opening song of the new "Here's to Taking It Easy" CD, It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're from Alabama), the group tended to go on lengthy excursions. They almost always hit their stride, setting a good beat courtesy of drummer Chris Marine.

Houck particularly stretched it out during the encore, going acoustic and then adding loops of himself singing, adding more and more to the sound.

This may have been the final show of the tour, but the 150 or so showing up were treated to a group that was ready to play, not looking to head home.

Joshua Tillman (he tours as J Tillman) of Fleet Foxes fame preceded Phosphorescent. While the Foxes may have a poppy sound, Tillman was definitely more of the singer/songwriter variety.

He played sitting down on a stool with acoustic guitar in hand and long hair moving about. He has a full-bodied, commanding voice, which he took advantage of time and time again. There's quite a lot of timbre to his voice, which was far meatier than Houck's.

Tillman also deserved a lot of praise for his between song patter. He was one funny guy, and it sure didn't come off as being rehearsed. He mentioned how he had the misfortune of driving back to Seattle, as this was the last gig. A woman in the crowd asked if he needed some help. "Just what I need," Tillman lamented. "A van full of chicks."

There was a lot more than a strong sense of humor and delivery for Tillman. While perhaps a rock club was not exactly the right setting for Tillman's music, he sang with passion and made you pay attention (except for a few guys who apparently irritated Tillman, causing him to get serious about the talkers going to a different bar within the club).