Live Music: Lindsey Buckingham in Boston, 10/17/08; Matthew Ryan in Asbury Park, 10/15/08

Written by Concert Reviews, Music

The career of a music writer certainly does have its perks. While it very often lacks in financial reward, it occasionally compensates with rewards of a more soul-satisfying sort. Last week was a perfectly good example. Over the course of three nights, I was able to see two of America’s most outstanding and individualistic musicians, in settings as disparate as a small rock n’ roll bar in Asbury Park, and a prestigious concert hall in Boston.

It began on Wednesday night when I took the familiar ride to Asbury Park to see singer/songwriter, and occasional Popdose contributor Matthew Ryan for the first time. If you think that Matt is just a guy who occasionally contributes to our esteemed journal, think again. He is one of the most respected songwriters in America, and each or his ten or so albums has been highly acclaimed. If you would like to familiarize yourself with his music, please check out the Popdose Guide to Matthew Ryan.

The Saint is the kind of bar that is vanishing all too quickly from the landscape, one of the last holdouts against the corporate takeover of live venues in Asbury Park, and NJ for that matter. It’s a pure rock dive that has been a stop for some of the most acclaimed bands in the world at some point in their careers. If there are 100 people in the house, the place is jam packed. Stickers and graffiti cover nearly ever inch of wall space. The sound system is superb, the beer is reasonably priced, the crowd is local and friendly. In other words, a club you can love.

I went to see Matt as a fan, not as a journalist, so I didn’t take any notes, or write down his setlist. What I can tell you is that he gave a wonderfully warm, intimate performance accompanied only by a talented violinist and keyboard player named Molly. I just knew it was going to be a special night when, after his first song (“Dulce Et Decorum Est” from his most recent album, Matthew Ryan vs. the Silver State), he took his vocal mic from the stage and placed it on the audience level, where it, and he, remained throughout the set. The rest of Matt’s performance featured songs from his new album, including “American Dirt,” and “It Could’ve Been Worse,” plus songs from nearly every era of his long career. At the end of the night, when it was time to field requests from a crowd that was obviously familiar with his work, Matt unplugged completely and performed the requested song standing next to the person who had asked for it, seeming to sing it just for them.

At one point in the night, a friend who had never heard Matt play leaned over to me and said, “he’s amazing because he’s so real.” That sums it up better than I can. As I said, a very special night.

But this is supposed to be about Lindsey Buckingham, right? Well two nights later I happened to be in New England, and the Fleetwood Mac mastermind happened to be appearing at the elegant, mid-sized Berklee Performance Center in Boston. I was very impressed with Buckingham’s latest solo album, Gift of Screws (read my review for Popdose), so I was anxious to see what the live performance would be like.

As you might expect from the veteran producer, the two-hour set was perfectly paced. Buckingham opened with two songs from the new album, went directly to the two biggest hits of his solo career, “Trouble,” and “Go Insane,” and then provoked the first standing ovation of the night with a stunning version of “Tusk.” He was accompanied by an extremely talented band that included guitarist Neale Heywood, drummer Walfredo Reyes, and keyboard player/guitarist Brett Tuggle.

The balance of the set included several songs from Gift of Screws, including the title track, the first single “Did You Miss Me,” the stirring “Love Runs Deeper,” the anthemic “Treason,” and the album’s opening track “Time, Precious Time,” which Buckingham performed solo to end the night. Of course the crowd was thrilled to hear the Fleetwood Mac stuff, and Buckingham did not let them down. There were strong versions of “Never Going Back,” “World Turning,” “Second Hand News,” and a favorite of mine, “Big Love,” from the Mac’s Tango in the Night. But the biggest ovations of the night were reserved for the two song sledge hammer which closed the main set. “So Afraid,” featured a wonderful Buckingham guitar solo right out of the David Gilmour playbook, and predictably “Go Your Own Way” closed the set with another stunning solo by Buckingham.

There is really not enough that I can say about his guitar playing. It’s difficult to say that he is in any way underrated, but this guy is one of the best, and most versatile guitar players that I’ve ever heard. Whether he’s amazing you with the speed and accuracy of his acoustic fingerpicking, or revving up a great electric guitar solo in his inimitable style, this aspect of Buckingham’s musical prowess merits a lot more notice.

It was an extremely well done show from every aspect, and best of all, I was still singing the songs the next day.

No, this music writing thing is not bad, not bad at all.

As a postscript, I want to apologize for the photo. Though I have a good camera, I am not a very good photographer, and even a photo pass didn’t get me close access at this show.