That hoary old beast the classic live double album was very much the product of the 1970s with records such as "Frampton Comes Alive" permanently camped in the US charts, whilst others like the "The Who - Live at Leeds" captured a band at the pinnacle of their raw stage power. Last December, Matthew Houck's band Phosphorescent played four shows at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York and whilst not quite matching Townshend and Co, this is a sterling concert performance and well worth seeking out.
At the heart of the performance is Houck's brilliant music from the last album "Muchacho". There has of course already been a set of acoustic live versions of these songs from a "try out" concert in St Pancras London which was included in the deluxe version of "Muchacho". For this set however the full electric band members of Phosphorescent are present and in addition there is the presence of a string quartet on the wonderful "Song for Zula". Others songs from the Phosphorescent repertory fare equally well in a live setting. A beautifully ragged "The Quotidian Beasts" sees Houck voice strain but not break adding to the songs vulnerability. Earlier songs like "Tell me baby have you had enough" have been road tested to the point of perfection over the years and work superbly on stage. The fragility of the "Wolves" confirms it as one of Houck's best songs especially the refrain"They tumble and fight / and they're beautiful/on the hilltops at night/ain't they beautiful". It is a wondrous 10 minutes and utterly absorbing through its passage. It is also great to hear other Houck classics like "A picture of our torn up praise", the wrecked country of "A New Anhedonia" and "Right on/Ride on" in this rawer concert environment. Like the old Grateful Dead, it is apparent that Houck and chums are artists who can get their live performances to match and often surpass the studio cuts. Best of all is a epic, knockout version of "Los Angeles" nearly hitting the eleven minute mark and once again showing that Houck may well be the spiritual heir to Neil Young.
"Live at the Music Hall" is obviously a holding exercise until the next full Phosphorescent outing (hence the 4 stars). In that sense this as much a live "Best of" as a new original contribution. It can however be usefully purchased by old and new fans of this great band. The music here is infused with genuine power and grace. It is underpinned by Houck's tangled and fraught view of the human condition. The outcome is as ever, the music of Phosphorescent glows in the dark
Review by Red on Black