Matt Maeson’s intimate yet uncompromising show at the Orpheum Sunday night brought the warmth and energy Madison desperately needed to thaw out.
Maeson opened for rock band Needtobreathe, beginning his set at the respectable hour of 7 p.m. His reception was filled with the enthusiasm and hoots and hollers one might expect for the main event.
A few minutes before he walked onstage, the audience was disjointed — some ordering drinks, some wielding surprisingly bright cell phone flashlights while trying to find their seats, others chatting with friends old and new. Because Maeson was an opener, I expected this sort of convivial distraction to continue throughout his first or maybe second song. I was wrong.
Maeson was a commanding presence as soon as he walked on the stage — almost immediately the crowd pocketed their cell phones and engaged in the call-and-response banter most artists employ at their shows.
He tossed out a, “Hey, Madison!” and the natural follow-up — “How are we feeling tonight?” He quickly wrapped up the pleasantries, and soon we were off to the races with his first track “Grave Digger.”
As is the case with most openers, Maeson’s set included only seven songs, most of which are from his first EP Who Killed Matt Maeson which includes a tune of the same name and his most popular release “Cringe” (which has roughly 24 million plays on Spotify, he proudly mentioned to the crowd). Maeson also played his latest single “Beggar’s Song.”
In a musical world that seems to reward constant stimulation, noise and busyness, Maeson was a breath of fresh air. He and his guitar, glowing under a few soft lights, were the only band members on the stage. Instead of isolating him, this setup created a large presence made larger by the soul and emotion that propped up his music.
Maeson introduced us to his next song “Me and My Friends Are Lonely” with its conception story — he wrote the song on the roof of a Wendy’s while sleeping in his car, an experience he called “living that rock and roll lifestyle.” This injection of a short-but-sweet narrative was something I soon realized was a huge part of his performance. He offered charming, enriching commentary that steered us through the background of his music, but he ultimately let the songs be his history lesson to us.
Maeson sang as consciously as one plays an instrument. He shouted at times and slapped a palm against his guitar, like the lyrics were wrenched from somewhere deep within him, then drew back quietly, strummed softly and contained himself until you were leaning forward in your chair to capture whatever he was feeling.
He never took himself too seriously, though. “You know what I mean, man?” he asked the crowd after his performance of “Beggar’s Song,” his voice thick with a sigh and the edge of self-mocking. It was definitely a cheeky punctuation to end a song that repeats, “I’m a beat-down, washed-up son of a bitch,” five times. It only endeared him more to the audience.
Maeson’s performance, just shy of thirty minutes but brimming with both vulnerability and strength, challenged the notion that acoustic music is bloodless music.