Studies in Contrast: Matt Pond PA and Laura Stevenson don’t back down at The Foundry

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Matt Pond PA | Photo by Matthew Shaver | brightloud.com
Matt Pond PA | Photo by Matthew Shaver | brightloud.com

There was always an interesting contrast in singer and songwriter Matt Pond when he lived in Philadelphia. Under the nom-de-stage matt pond PA, he spent the late 90s and early aughts making albums and EPs of touching, beautifully-orchestrated songs awash in cello and meditative acoustic guitar. But he also came up during the Guided by Voices heyday when crowds at Philly clubs were largely indie-bros who binge-drank and talked loudly over everybody, even the people they were ostensibly there to see. Pond had no patience for that shit, and rightfully so. And over time, the guy who wrote these sensitive, personal songs developed a local rep for being something of an angry and aggressive crank – when, really, he was just dishing back the attitude the crowd was giving him.

Those who were there at the time know how the story proceeded. Pond eventually amassed a local fan base that came for him, not for the scene, but he nonetheless left Philly for New York where his career blossomed in ways none of us expected. He got songs placed in TV and film, developed a strong national profile and released Several Arrows Later, a timeless work that is remarkably uncynical and sentimental, considering that it came from somebody who was at that point nearly a decade into a career on the brutal chew-em-up-spit-em-out indie circuit. He remains a prolific writer and recorder, and after a solo LP – The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand – he revived the “PA” moniker for a run celebrating the 10th anniversary of Emblems, followed up by this year’s State of Gold.

It’s a beautiful record as only Pond can deliver, and his gig at The Foundry in support of it a couple weeks back – rumored to be the final matt pond PA tour – was equal parts moving and rousing. “So Much Trouble” and “Halloween” were immediate winners off the top, and “Love To Get Used” brought the main set to a tremendous close. The proceedings were also, Pond being Pond, a little cantankerous. 

Matt Pond PA | Photo by Matthew Shaver | brightloud.com
Matt Pond PA | Photo by Matthew Shaver | brightloud.com

The situation as far as I could tell from the foot of the stage: the front half of the house was packed with fans and devotees, people singing along word-for-word, one particularly hype dude in a grey hoodie dancing and flailing his arms in ecstasy. Pond played to these fans eagerly, but there was no ignoring those filling out the plush chairs in the back; a lot of investment banker sorts in expensive-looking suits that seemingly wandered up to The Foundry from a private party downstairs. They talked loudly over opener Laura Stevenson, and they talked loudly over Pond. At first Pond baited them with jockish sports-taunting – “How about the Flyers? Are they still a team?”

But the noise continued, and when Pond came out for the encore, he meant business. The song was the moving “The Summer Is Coming” from 2002’s The Nature of Maps, and he was giving it a solo performance backed only by cello. “If you talk during this song, I’m going to put you in your fucking place,” Pond said. “I don’t care how expensive your seats are.”

Brutal, but it (mostly) worked – the din quieted, Pond thanked the loyal and attentive people up front, and ended the show on the reach-for-the-stratosphere anthem “Measure 3” from The Green Fury. It was a strong rebound and conclusion, and Pond once again graciously thanked folks for turning out on a weeknight. He said “truly I love coming here and playing Philadelphia.” And truly he sounded like he meant it.

Laura Stevenson | Photo by Matthew Shaver | brightloud.com
Laura Stevenson | Photo by Matthew Shaver | brightloud.com

Stevenson’s opening set was also strong – she powered through roughly 40 minutes of rockers from Cocksure and probably gained a lot of new fans in the process. The folks who were attentive for Pond were also open to hearing her, and jams like “Jellyfish” won them over (even though the quiet points of “Renee” from 2013’s Wheel were drowned out by the suits). The biggest contrast in Stevenson’s set: her quirky playful banter revealed that a lot of her songs have heavy undertones of sadness and death, but they’re infectious and catchy numbers that had the crowd bobbing their heads along. Nothing like an artist who makes you expect the unexpected. Check out Matt Shaver’s photos from the show in the gallery below.

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