Live long and “Phosphor”
Phosphorescent lights up the Jefferson
The line was long at the ticket window outside the Jefferson Theater on a particularly chilly night last Thursday, where fans were eager to see Matthew Houck, the man behind Phosphorescent.
Accompanying the tour was Caveman, a five-piece indie-rock band from Brooklyn. With a pleasant and refined sound, Caveman served as a palate cleanser for Phosphorescent itself. Overflowing with vases of white flowers and a number of incense-burning candles, the Jefferson’s stage was transformed into something resembling an altar.
Accompanied by a six-piece band offering a variety of instrumentation, Houck wore a white-and-shimmering-gold cowboy get-up, complete with glittery boots and a hat when he finally emerged. Bearing a striking resemblance to Liberace, the image would have been hard to get past if the music wasn’t so good.
Houck sounds like a musician who has listened to enough Neil Young to internalize a certain singing style — almost whining, but not quite. Houck’s voice is the pedal steel guitar of voices: sharp, warbly and reverberative. A particularly sultry performance of “Ride On/Right On,” which relies almost entirely on a heavy percussive beat as effectively catchy as Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” stood as a particular highlight of the evening.
After touring under the name Fillup Shack, Houck settled in Athens, Ga. where he pursued a number of projects, including a Willie Nelson tribute album titled “To Willie.” Athens, known for its thriving alternative music scene, has vetted big-sound alternative bands like R.E.M. and the Drive-By Truckers. Situated among bands like these, Phosphorescent similarly captures a distinct country-infused sound particular to the Athens scene.
Perhaps it was the outfit, but Houck was clear in his performance to distinguish himself as a solo artist. About halfway through the set, the band left him to perform on his own. He moved from piano to guitar and finally to the microphone and loop pedal to perform an impassioned a cappella version of “Sun’s Arising (A Koan, An Exit),” recording and re-recording his voice in hauntingly coordinated layers of loops.
Even after the encore, the hall seemed still to be humming from it. I’m sure it still is.