Matthew Sweet/The Bridges; October 23, 2008; Park West, Chicago
I am fast discovering that I don’t like sitting for shows I would normally be standing for. The Alejandro Escovedo show I went to the day after I broke my foot (before I even knew it was broken) seemed a bit ho-hum from my seat at the end of the bar while everyone else in attendance swooned, though I am guessing the truth is actually somewhere in between. Everyone at the Park West was incredibly thoughtful and helpful as I did my best to traverse the many staggered levels of the venue, from allowing me to take the back way, without stairs, down to the dance floor in front of the stage to storing my crutches in a back room out of the way. Of course, not having my crutches also meant I had no choice but to stay seated at my table stage right. I wasn’t far from the stage, but everyone in front of me was standing which meant I only caught the occasional glimpse of Matthew and his band.
Without that visual connection I might just as well have been listening to Sweet’s new CD Sunshine Lies and his greatest hits on shuffle rather than at a somewhat expensive ($25) show that we endured worse-than-usual Chicago traffic for. I have no complaints with the set list- live versions of radio favorites like “Girlfriend,” and the uber-infectious “Sick of Myself” held up well more than a decade after their release. In fact, whenever I told someone who I was going to see, without fail they started singing the latter. I mean they did if they actually knew who he was. What did seem odd was Sweet’s apologetic nature when it came to playing the new songs. The CD had been out for several months at this point, we all had a chance to listen to the songs, it wasn’t as if he was bombarding us with unreleased songs. Before any group of two or three new ones he would ask if it was OK if they played them. He’s touring behind that CD, it would have been strange if he didn’t play them, especially when they held their own next to the classics.
A good deal of the credit for the quality of the show goes to his stellar band, all of whom have toured with him before, and most have been with him for several years. Drummer Rik Menck may be the best known name in the bunch. Not only has he played on records from Girlfriend to the new Sunshine Lies, he also was one of the founding members of the very polished power pop band Velvet Crush. I once saw Menck fill in behind the kit for the Pernice Brothers after their regular drummer was called home for a family emergency. He filled in flawlessly despite learning the songs on the flight to Chicago from LA. The other half of the rhythm section is Tony Marisco. Guitarists Paul Chastaine (currently playing with the very promising New Ruins, based out of Champaign) Pete Phillips fill out the band putting the power in the pop.
Even though I wanted to be right up front for Matthew’s set, I was more than happy to be confined to my seat through opener the Bridges. Made up of a bunch of sisters and a cousin, the band’s abundance of bangs and syrupy sweet harmonies was enough to turn me off before I’d even really listened. Sweet produced their recent record and it bears his golden pop touch, it’s too bad the sound makes my teeth hurt. Having to literally sit through a show made me appreciate being mobile even more, I can’t wait to be back on my feet.