Personnel: Matthew Houck (guitar, piano); Ricky Ray Jackson (guitar); Scott Stapleton (piano); Jo Schornikow (organ); Christopher Marine (drums); David Torch (percussion).
Recording information: The Music Hall, Williamsburg (12/19/2013-12/22/2013).
With his 2013 album Muchacho, songwriter Matthew Houck broke some new ground with his long-running Phosphorescent project, bringing new clarity and drive to his country-tinged indie songs and arranging them with a fantastic balance of atmospheric production effects. The album was loved by fans and critics alike, and Houck took his live band on a globe-trotting eight-month tour, ending up where they began in their home city of Brooklyn, New York with a four-night stand at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Live at the Music Hall is very much a live album in the tradition of classic '70s live albums by roots rock and stadium acts alike. The 19 tunes here definitely push well into double-album territory, with an expanded band of players in a mode that borders on jam band territory but always stops short of over-extending the songs. Songs from Muchacho do stretch out and feel more alive with road-tested soloing, or in the case of the epic "Song for Zula," the addition of a live string quartet to fill out the electronic elements of the album version. "A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise" shows up a couple of times, first in a gorgeous and spare reading by Houck alone with just voice and electric guitar, but returned to a few tracks later (presumably recorded on a different night) backed up by simmering playing and drunken backing vocals from the full band. Like some of the better live albums from the classic rock era, it becomes hard to choose which is better -- the well-groomed album versions or the technically rougher but often more emotionally resonant live versions? Live at the Music Hall is Phosphorescent's well-studied take on this phenomenon, with the various versions of album songs amplified in their intensity by the shouts of the crowd and the wandering, wasted feel the live instrumentation adds. ~ Fred Thomas