Thursday, May 22, 2008

Matt Hopper/Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives; May 22, 2008; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I miss Matt Hopper. The shameless self promoter lived in Madison for eight months, and by the end of it he was playing several times a week, sometimes solo, sometimes with the current incarnation of the Roman Candles (formerly known as Blake Thomas’s Downtown Brown). He was sometimes prone to playing too long or jumping from song to song without finishing any of them, but I always enjoyed his goofy charm and catchy pop songs. As well known as he was around town then I wasn’t sure how many people would come out to see him at a house concert. Any misgivings I had about booking the show were calmed after I listened to the handful of songs on his tourmates’ MySpace. Hopper called Drew Grow one of the most passionate singers he knows, and I had to agree.

The Pastors’ Wives turned out to consist entirely of one person, the delightfully Beck-ish multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah whose backing vocals as well as keyboard and drum parts filled in Drew’s emotional songs. I may have finally heard a vocalist who could compete with Robby Schiller in a microphone-less singing competition, though Schiller would still undoubtedly win. He started the first song so far off mike that I wondered why we even bothered with a PA. It isn’t so much what he sings as how he sings it, and some songs seemed to consist of no more than one line sung over and over. He was witty as well. He introduced one song as being his “International hit.” “By that,” he continued, “I mean my mom lives in China and I am pretty sure she has this record.” As it turned out Grow also spent some time in China as a pre-teen and he still remembers the ping pong skills the cook taught him. His wicked serves compliment his songwriting skill nicely.

Hopper had told me that Drew and band were planning to be his backing band for the tour, but with only a few dates under their belt so far, they hadn’t quite worked that out. Still Hooper did join Drew and Jeremiah for one song and in return Drew played keyboards and sang on one of Hopper’s songs. His other contributions came from across the room; from his seat at the bottom of the stairs he would add lovely harmony vocals seemingly whenever the spirit moved him. The next morning as they practiced a gorgeous version of “Madison” together, I found myself wishing I could catch this show again a few more stops down the line. Despite being a prolific songwriter, Hopper only has a one full length out under his own name (songs from older discs under the Roman Candles name very seldom show up live), and the songs from “Reverse Odyssey” made up the bulk of his rather short set. Many of the songs differed from their original versions that it took me a moment to place them. Even the pop-perfect “City Walls” had a different texture than I was used to.

It turned out to be a much mellower show that I had anticipated. Instead of the predicted drunk and rowdy crowd (all the Blueheels boys and their buddies left early to go to the High Noon), it was a quiet and attentive crowd who applauded politely after every song. And instead of staying up all night drinking, we played a few games of ping pong and went to bed. Despite the fact that Grow hadn’t played since he was 12 he was still a formidable foe.

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