Takin’ It to the Streets

August 11th, 2010

Jonah Matranga – Mercury Lounge – August 10, 2010

(Photo: Kirsten Housel)

(Photo: Kirsten Housel)

Jonah Matranga has been making music for nearly 20 years, and last night’s Mercury Lounge show—on the eve of his 41st birthday—was a perfect reminder of why he’s still relevant after all these years and different projects. It basically became a by-request set with plenty of songs Matranga hadn’t recently played. He opened with “Pollyanna,” a long-time crowd favorite from his onelinedrawing days, then played a powerful new one, “This Is Who I’m Gonna Be,” and what he referred to as the previous tune’s older cousin, “Lukewarm” (from New End Original).

Matranga spoke often, explaining songs and talking about the memories each holds for him. His solo sets are always stellar because of the way he connects with those in the audience, giving them anecdotes, listening to their retorts and humbly cracking jokes about himself. Matranga’s singer-songwriter skills stem not only from his personable crowd interactions, but also from the heightened sense of emotion and urgency he throws into his music. At one moment he is quietly crooning, and the next he is red in the face, wailing into the microphone. With his eye on the clock, Matranga ended the set with songs of his choice: New End Original’s “#1 Defender,” “Definitely Definitely Definitely” (“a totally ridiculous, totally retarded” song) and “14-41” (in which he sings “you start blind, end up dumb”).

Although his time onstage was finished, Matranga wasn’t ready to end the night. Not even 20 minutes later, a crowd circled around him outside, just west of Mercury Lounge. He started with “Better Than This,” a usual staple of his set. After several more songs, two rounds of “Happy Birthday” (including one just after midnight) and a couple of buckets of water from upstairs neighbors, the set and the night ended perfectly. —Kirsten Housel