Schuba's - Chicago
September 14, 2000
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2000, Volume 7, #11
Written by John Metzger
Matthew Ryan's voice conveys the world-weary exhaustion of a person twice his age. Raw emotion drips from the cracked and craggy edges of the 28 year-old's intonations as he sings his songs of survival, loneliness, and outrage. Both May Day and Ryan's recent release East Autumn Grin are unquestionably rock 'n' roll records, but underneath the trappings lie the heart and soul of a singer/songwriter with all of the requisite introspection and intimate atmospherics.
Witness Ryan's September 14 concert at Schuba's Tavern in Chicago. Backed by bassist Brian Bequette and drummer Tom Williams, Ryan stripped each of his songs down to its barest essence, allowing his angst to bleed through each tune's tissued veneer of rock intensity. Heartache Weather chugged along at a slower pace than its recorded counterpart, permitting the trio to explore the song's gloomy aura. Likewise, The World is on Fire churned with a chilling depiction of America as glimpsed through the evening news, and I Must Love Leaving was transformed into a Clash-like march — full of anger and frustration.
Scattered throughout the 75-minute set were even sparser arrangements that served to enhance, rather than hide, the sorrow in Ryan's songs. Worry was performed as a solo acoustic selection, and though its lyrics were meant to soothe Ryan's soul, his whispered vocals betrayed his confidence that everything would be alright in the end. Similarly, Me & My Lover's promise of companionship couldn't mask the ache in his voice or the pang in his heart. When on Dam he sang "One day soon that dam is gonna break/And it'll wash you away/It'll wash you away from me/And that's the best damn thing that could happen to you," he delivered the line with such glee it was as if he felt as much pride as pain in his premonition. Such was the nature of almost all of Ryan's set, and consequently, his performance resonated with the agony of exposed nerve endings — torn, frayed, and laid bare by the bitter burden of a bevy of broken hearts.
Yet, the concert was not all dark and dreary. Throughout the show, Ryan joked with both his band and the audience, letting the light-hearted humor of his banter ease the emotional tension in the room. Additionally, he concluded his set with I Hear a Symphony, the most upbeat selection from East Autumn Grin. Tacking on a final mantra about going home to see his wife and child, Ryan turned the song into an uplifting melody that seemed to finally rescue him from his melancholic state. It was as if his family was his safety net and in them he finally had found solace from his bruised and battered world.
Mark Tatara open the show with a 35-minute set of folk songs that blurred the unlikely line between Donovan and Eddie Vedder, while adding just a hint of Cat Stevens, Loudon Wainwright III, and Joe Strummer. At first, Tatara appeared uneasy about performing on stage in front of a crowd. By the end of his set, however, he had managed to overcome his anxiety, which allowed his talent to bubble towards the surface.
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box