Matthew Houck Keeps It Simple at Solo Phosphorescent Show

December 19th, 2013

Phosphorescent – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 18, 2013

(Photo: Dusdin Condren)

Julianna Barwick and Phosphorescent each performed mesmerizing solo sets last night at a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg. Both impressed with masterful vocal looping and the sheer will it takes to perform alone. Live, Julianna Barwick’s songs seamlessly melt into one another. She has an impressive knack for exploring every nook and cranny of her vocal range and manipulating them to create a full chorus-like effect. Her unique mix of angelic and melancholic sounds slowly crept up, holding audience members tightly. Barwick played several songs from her newest album, Nepenthe, and her clear voice, low-slung synths and the help of a guitarist made her set gracefully haunting and dramatic.

There was an extensive stage change involving dozens of candles and flower vases before Phosphorescent appeared. As “Sun Arise! (An Invocation, an Introduction)” boomed through the sound system, Matthew Houck crept onstage in a candlelit glow, arranging objects as if he were in his own living room. With just a guitar and his voice, Houck played songs from all across his repertoire. “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master),” “The Quotidian Beasts” and “Wolves” kicked off the set. “I can’t tell you how good it is to be back in Brooklyn. Thanks for being here with me,” he said gratefully before performing a stripped-down version of “A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise.”

The audience sang along as Houck played a quiet version of “Song for Zula” rather than doing the tune’s normal orchestral arrangement. “Muchacho’s Tune” followed along with a whispery folk version of Vampire Weekend’s “Ya Hey.” “Cocaine Lights” concluded the set, and Houck looped his own howling to create a chorus of primal screams. The encore had a sweet, nostalgic feel to it with “My Dove, My Lamb,” “Ms. Juliette Low” and the honky-tonk “Los Angeles.” Members of Phosphorescent slid onstage to join him in singing the last number, providing a preview of the full-band shows at Music Hall tonight, tomorrow and Saturday. But last night, Matthew Houck owned the stage and celebrated the value of keeping it simple. —Schuyler Rooth