Is it possible to place a cello in any song and not reap a sense of foreboding? No, I think not. Matson Jones has two cellos. Along with a standup bass played like a giant cello; along with some guy on drums who must have fallen in love with syncopation at a very early age. It’s him, drummer Ross Harada, who is the pistons in this engine. Sure, the cellos add their obvious share of chum-chum-chum locomotion, but it’s Harada that makes this rock, even though his drum set sounded like he bought it for fifty bucks at a garage sale. No guitars is always going to be a hard sale at a place like O’Leaver’s, but, god help them, Matson Jones managed to sell it to the 50 or so on hand (even though there was a small contingency of girls in the back who just would not shut up (what are ya gonna do? It’s a bar, after all…)).
Musically, think early P.J. Harvey circa 4-track Demos. In fact, that particular P.J. Harvey album — a classic example of rock minimalism — is probably the best comparison you’ll get to Matson Jones. The melodies are narrow, bounced off the cello riffs like a curled-lipped snarl. Doesn’t hurt that the duo vocalists/cellists Martina Grbac and Anna Macorella sport voices that are of the same timber and texture as Harvey’s young, distorted howl.
But what really sold the performance was the band’s sense of dynamics. Maybe I’m just getting tired of the usual indie rock shtick where the band lights up and plays everything on 11 for 30 minutes without a moment’s hold-back — red-lined to flat-line to numbness to boredom. Matson Jones took their songs up, down and sideways, at one time barreling forward like a train wreck before dropping to a hush — just the cellos sawing and vocals — before Harada brought it all back up again with his rattling drums. It’s those dynamics that made this band (and their CD) interesting, arresting and wry, with just a touch of foreboding.
Tough choices tonight — The 49’r or O’Leaver’s… see below for details. I’ll probably miss them both.
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