The crowd at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room was in full agreement. "Emblems" is one of the most highly regarded albums of his career, garnering critical praise and retaining its fans' dedicated love throughout the years, warranting a performance of it from start to finish.
Cleveland's the Lighthouse and the Whaler kicked off the night with lighthearted energy. They have become Pond's tour buddies, sharing the stage with him on the last tour. Their opening set was vibrant and fun. An engaging frontman like Michael LoPresti, dynamic instrumentation and catchy refrains are a recipe for a feel-good time. There is a lighthearted romance to many of the band's songs with "Venice" being a standout. It definitely inspired a sing along between two adorable, doe-eyed millennials in the front row, and they belted out the lyrics "Why don't we all fall in love? Oh, Whoa, oh oh" to each other. Even the most cynical of hearts would have to admit it was pretty cute. During TLATW's performance, I kept wishing the tables would just vanish and a dance party would materialize. I was delighted that when Pond and his cohorts took the stage, a large group pressed their way to the open floor in front of the stage for exactly that purpose.
Before we go any further, let me just share with you that Matt Pond is my happy place. He is bar none, my favorite songwriter and performer, and the attendance at past performances here have always left me a little disappointed. Our city redeemed itself last night, and although the Duck Room is a small venue, it was fantastic to see it packed with folks eager to enjoy Pond's music. As he took the stage he remarked with genuine awe and dry wit, "We're pleasantly surprised by your attendance tonight, if I may be that bold."
This was the first time I've ever been to a concert where an album was performed start to finish (with a few rearrangements here and there), and I hope it's not my last. Does anyone listen to albums start to finish anymore? It's a topic that music lovers find themselves bemoaning often and just as often find that the topic causes their loved ones to roll their eyes in their general direction. So I hesitate to broach the subject, but really, do you listen to albums from start to finish anymore? If you really love an album I believe you should listen to it, in order, at least once so that you get the full picture the band is painting for you. I also believe that more artists should perform them in this way. For a fan, it's a truly special treat.
I see this particular album as a defining moment for Pond. It was the first album on which he played electric guitar and stepped to the front of the stage. Prior to it, he performed his chamber-pop tunes from a chair seated across from the cellist. Most importantly, "Emblems" was where Pond's exceptional abilities as a poet (which is best showcased on the album "The Dark Leaves") and as a crafter of graceful metaphors came into focus. He is able to strike an emotional chord in the listener with the simplest of phrases such as the beginning line of "KC", the first song on the album, "I remember you. Do you remember me? There's no way to the heart better than awkwardly."
The album was also the first true taste of how fun Pond can be. He's recognized for serious lyrics and messages that tug at the heartstrings such as songs like "New Hampshire" but he's also an incredibly playful songwriter who crafts tunes like "Closest (Look Out)" which makes you want to dance your cares away. "Emblems" was really the album that solidified that Pond is in it for the long haul and we'd have hundreds more songs to look forward to. That he took time to look back 10 years later and recognize it's importance to his personal journey as a songwriter with a tour is very telling.
Pond closed out the set with "Halloween" from the album "Several Arrows Later" and he thanked the crowd again. "This is amazing," he said. "This is like the best St. Louis-ness we've ever had. We really appreciate this, it feels really good."
It didn't take but a few moments of applause, hoot, hollers and chants of "Matt Pond PA" to get them to come back out where Pond delightfully joked, "Have you ever sweated so much that there's like salt deposits on your face? Well it's a first for me so thank you very much St. Louis. I was just back there licking my own face. I mean someone's gotta do it. (laughs) That doesn't make any sense." He proceeded to make my entire year by kicking off the encore with my favorite song of his extensive catalog, "Specks," Then he and the band finished out the night with more recent work like "Starting" from "The Dark Leaves" and "Love to Get Used" from 2013's "The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand."
Pond is a magnetic performer. Anyone with eyes can see how deeply he connects to both lyrics and the music he's created with his bandmates. As he sings, he often touches at the air as if he's grabbing the notes and caressing a particularly vibrant chord. He has surrounded himself with a group of first class musicians including Chris Hansen, an absolutely phenomenal guitarist who has been a constant in a band lineup that has had several changes throughout Pond's career. Hansen's guitar playing is as sunny as the perma-grin he wears on his face while he plays and is equally as infectious. Pond and Hansen have become the core of the group and best friends in the process.
Prior to this tour, they were hunkered down in a cabin in upstate New York recording songs for the new upcoming album "State of Gold" which they've funded through a Pledge Music campaign. Backers have been treated to several downloads of acoustic versions of the songs and I believe what they've created on this new album is indeed gold. Check it out, along with this new release called "Skeletons and Friends" on Noise Trade and when Pond returns to St. Louis, I hope to see even more new and old fans in the crowd.