While it may be hard for some to believe, October 22, 2011 will mark the twentieth anniversary of Matthew Sweet's breakthrough album Girlfriend. Following the recent trend of nostalgic nineties reissues, Sweet arrived in Chicago for two shows at Bottom Lounge to celebrate the anniversary with live performances of the Girlfriend album in its entirety.
Sweet, has never been the type of artist to look back. While commercial success generally avoided him following Girlfriend, he never stopped releasing new music or challenging himself as an artist. In fact, his thirteenth studio album Modern Art was released only weeks ago.
So it was a bit surprising to see the way in which he's attempted to capitalize on the Girlfriend anniversary (packages are available at his website featuring everything from t-shirts to autographed "Girlfriend" lyrics).
Matthew Sweet arrived at Bottom Lounge on Thursday leading a tight, four piece unit that featured Ric Menck on drums (Menck drummed on the Girlfriend album) and Dennis Taylor on guitar (Taylor has worked with The Bangles and The Records). While it's virtually impossible to recreate the frenzied guitar playing of Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd that formed the trademark sound of Sweet's best work, Taylor was nevertheless pretty good, hitting the many Girlfriend solos note for note.
Thursday's show featured the most guitar that I've seen Sweet play in quite some time. Girlfriend is literally drenched in guitars from beginning to end and performing it in order, in its entirety, requires some work (Matthew described the process of relearning and rehearsing the fifteen songs as "daunting" when I talked with him last week).
Anyone who has seen Matthew Sweet before has no doubt seen him perform tracks like "Divine Intervention," "Girlfriend," "I've Been Waiting," and "Evangeline." The hits. So it was the album's deeper cuts that I was excited to see. And they ended up being my favorite moments of the seventy minute set.
Opening act Miles Zuniga joined Sweet and Taylor on acoustic guitar for a bassless and drumless guitar driven assault on "Thought I Knew You." Angstier, faster and louder than on the record, Sweet and Taylor's dueling guitar licks propelled the rarely played album cut.
Following "Thought I Knew You," Taylor unleashed a hellatious solo on "You Don't Love Me" that echoed the song's frantic desperation nicely, finishing it on the three guitar strings he hadn't broken in the process.
Two of the evening's loudest moments came during "I Wanted to Tell You" and "Holy War." The solos during the former make it one of the highlights of the album and Taylor recreated them nicely in the live setting on Thursday. I've seen Matthew Sweet live nine times and Thursday night's show was the first time I've ever seen him perform "Holy War" (the fastest song of the night).
The encore was heavy on 1995's 100% Fun with "Sick of Myself" and "We're the Same." From 1993's vastly underrated Altered Beast appropriately came "Time Capsule," while Matthew's newest single "She Walks the Night" fit nicely into the set as well.
In 2008, I saw Matthew Sweet at a half full Park West and for the first time, I felt that he was going through the motions during the shorter than normal set (just short of an hour if memory serves). On Thursday though, Sweet was in top form musically and despite some weight gain since last I saw him, he was also in outstanding voice. It is always good to see an artist challenge himself and Thursday night, Matthew Sweet thrived on that challenge live at Bottom Lounge.
Fastball's Miles Zuniga opened the show with a mix of witty stage banter and pop oriented tracks from his debut solo album These Ghosts Have Bones. The album is about the end of a relationship (appropriate table setting fare for Girlfriend) and songs like "The Weatherman" made for a fun and lively set. Following a false start, Zuniga also sounded great on Fastball's "Fire Escape."