Matthew Dear Romances NYC’s Webster Hall
On record, Matthew Dear's music is as much about the details (the burn behind his unnaturally low vocals; the crawling, skittering or slicing of various electronic noises; subtle changes in instrumentation as songs quietly shift genres) as it is about the dance beat that frames it all.
At New York City's Webster Hall on Saturday night, the volume of sound produced by Dear's band – which at times included two percussionists steadily pounding their drums and a heavily modulated trumpet pealing into a microphone – made it tough to discern those details. The beat itself, which at a typical dance-music show would carry the room regardless of what was happening onstage, was just a player in the band, as liable as anything else to get buried in the mix.
Amid the murk, Dear's Gucci-model looks and hair-salon visuals floated to the top. Roses, white as eggshells, were twined to each microphone stand. Three expressive paintings, or perhaps three versions of the same painting, composed the backdrop of the stage, as if the band was playing in someone's ultra-modern downtown apartment. Each band member was a version of Dear, dressed to sell a fancy suit or possibly check IDs at a Depeche Mode concert in 1985.
The mood was creeping, polished white, tilting and sexual. Under the soft blue lights, before Dear's 'Station to Station' sway, almost everyone was making out.
"I've never wanted to go up there behind a laptop and just play loops from my album, or hide behind a hood and sing," Dear told Pitchfork back in August. Instead, Dear creates a sonic atmosphere in which to hump one's boyfriend/girlfriend.
The clunky funk of 'Headcage,' off Dear's latest album 'Beams,' was buried a bit. What should have been a jerky dance party -- as Dear sang "Throw your rocks in the air / Let’s go have fun tonight" -- was more of a quiet shuffle. 'Black City''s 'Slowdance' -- a headphone jam driven by creepy, abstract lyrics and a marching coda of bum-bum-bumbadums -- thumped appropriately, but sounded a little thin.
After 'Temptation,' Dear said, "That was the most honest song I've ever written. This next song is the darkest song I've ever written," and the band moved into 'Shake Me.' They pressed on as Dear danced around the stage.
The peak of the show was, fittingly, Dear's sex ballad 'You Put a Smell on Me,' which refused to be buried. In this perfect moment, the beat coalesced around Dear's illuminated jazz-age face. He mumbled about making you go for a ride with him in his big black car, but the details fell by the wayside as the beat, for once, pushed forward. "You decide if you want to come," he sings; "we can go all night if you dance with me," he proposes. But the growl of the bass line insists.