Over the years Matthew Sweet has proven that all he really needs is a "room to rock in," which is what he laments in the second song ("Room to Rock") on his latest album, Sunshine Lies. On Friday night, St. Louis fans of the veteran songsmith and power-pop genius were lucky enough to see him and some of his long-time cohorts at one of best St. Louis rooms to rock in, period: Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. Sweet was joined by a stellar lineup that was the latest incarnation of fellow power-pop group Velvet Crush (Paul Chastain on bass, Peter Phillips on lead guitar and long-time collaborator Ric Menck on drums).
As Sweet and band took the stage in front of the sold-out crowd, they wasted no time with pleasantries, launching directly into crowd favorite "Divine Intervention," from 1991's seminal album, Girlfriend. The band was spot-on from the first downbeat: Phillips' blistering Fender Bassman classic-guitar crunch complimented Menck's drums, which sounded full and resonant.
"Girlfriend" (last night) From there the band dropped right into "Room to Rock," with its '70s-influenced blues riffs, and the timeless, catchy (and more familiar territory) of 100% Fun's "We're the Same." In fact, Sweet's main set stuck mostly to his celebrated early-'90s canon, with the exception of a few selections from last year's Lies. The somewhat older crowd seemed to appreciate the nostalgia trip, but when Sweet commented almost apologetically that he was about to play a "more unfamiliar" tune called "Time Machine" from his latest album, the applause seemed to suggest that the audience was right with him -- and just as eager to soak in live versions of the newer material.
And really, some of the highlights and most energetic moments of the somewhat short twelve-song set were new songs and slightly more obscure material -- including the raucous "rock mix" arrangement of Beast's "The Ugly Truth" and a soulful, super-charged, Neil Young and Crazy Horse-influenced version of Girlfriend's "You Don't Love Me."
"Sick of Myself" Sweet seemed to struggle a bit with his voice early in the set (and even joked at one point that he had just gotten over a nasty case of the "swine flu"), and he fell short of a few of the highest notes on "We're the Same." However, the latter part of the set seemed better, possibly because of the energy in the room or just the fact that he had time to get properly warmed up.
After blazing versions of "I've Been Waiting" and the obligatory "Sick of Myself" (which the band played at a giddy-up clip and tacked on four false-endings) the band left the stage but soon returned for one encore. Up first was a heavily distorted version of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" (which Sweet covered with Bangles singer Susanna Hoff's on 2006's '60s compilation, Under the Covers: Volume 1; the set-ender was a somewhat sloppy (but warm-spirited) cover of Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes." (The latter will appear on Sweet and Hoff's second collaboration, out later this year.)
After the show, die-hard fans seemed pleased with the band's performance, sans the fact that the show was a somewhat disappointingly short 75 minutes. But Sweet's sweaty, rambunctious energy, Menck's maniacal drum fills (and amazing fedora, red-tinted sunglasses and jumbo-sized gray mutton chops) and Phillips' syrupy guitar tone and riffs made it hard to walk away from this show feeling the least bit slighted.
Setlist: Divine Intervention Room to Rock We're The Same Time Machine The Ugly Truth Someone to Pull the Trigger Byrdgirl Time Capsule Girlfriend You Don't Love Me I've Been Waiting Sick of Myself
Encore: Cinnamon Girl All the Young Dudes