Listings columns across London had suggested tonight’s Bush Hall headliner was to be Wolverhampton wonder Scott Matthews.
Some in the audience had arrived expecting such, only to find the Uxbridge Road venue decked out with chairs for Brooklyn-based Scott Matthew’s debut UK gig. It wasn’t his fault that some of the more bemused folk present walked out. Nor was it his fault he arrived here a victim of a mugging, sustaining an injury to a tendon which has left him unable to play guitar.
You’d be forgiven for concluding that Matthew must be a curiously luckless individual; confused with a man from another country and deprived of his main instrument as a musician. Indeed, perched on a stool with a bottle of red wine at the ready and showing every sign of being a bag of nerves, Matthew seemed a frail creature, convinced he’d be pelted with eggs as soon as he opened his mouth for daring not to be from the Black Country.
Maybe it was this vulnerable persona that immediately warmed him to the London crowd, many of whom will have known his music from John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus and at least some of whom had seen his co-star Jay Brannan‘s UK debut last month. There was to be no Justin Bond (of Kiki & Herb fame) to sing In The End tonight, but Matthew came backed with a delicate lady tinkling the Bush’s resident grand ivories, and a chap bowing a cello. Occasionally Matthew would throw ukulele into the mix too, the featherweight instrument less of a handicap for him than a guitar.
Dressed in black and with his piercing, preacher eyes darting this way and that, Matthew nervously began to sing. Suggestions of similarity with Rufus Wainwright and Antony were exposed as disingenuous. They’re all gay, male and have spent at least part of their lives making music in New York. Their penchant for lovelorn torch songs knits their audience together too. But Matthew has a voice to make the listener cry, a tremulous instrument perfectly complemented by his worried stage performance. He doesn’t have the vocal range of Rufus or the sheer power of Antony, but Matthew is still a man who could sing a telephone directory and make it sound like a funeral wake.
His subject matter isn’t funereal, however. Indeed he tells us he’s recently penned his first protest song, insisting that he normally writes about love lost. It’s one of these songs, featuring the lyrics “put me to pasture, send me to slaughter, past tense to you”, that sees him finally establish his confidence for all to see. Amid wild applause he rewards himself with a gulp of wine and grins sheepishly at his piano player, whose smile back says “I told you you’re good”. He still scarcely seems to believe it.
He should. Predictably, In The End was far and away the highlight, perhaps because of its familiarity. But here it was stripped down to expose the raw nerve tissue of emotion at its core. Sublime barely covers it. Without the distractions introduced by Mitchell’s film, the song stands as a melancholic masterpiece, rich in pathos.
But following that he curiously ends on a run of covers, crediting Chet Baker as his source for Everything Happens To Me before veering into darker territory with Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear Us Apart. By its close, Matthew had left a distinct impression of having achieved that rare thing – a bond with his audience.
His London reception should give Matthew the confidence to perform more of his own material as he sets about establishing himself internationally – and shading his near-namesake in the fame stakes.