Matt Pond (photos by Adam Tercyak-Morgan)
Jukebox the Ghost (Photos by Audra Napolitano)
On Jukebox the Ghost‘s track “Say When,” guitarist Tommy Siegel sings “Expensive tickets to a crowded place.” While the tickets were only 16 bucks for the double billed show of Matt Pond and Jukebox the Ghost, Arch Street Tavern certainly was crowded. Matt Pond was a little late to the show because he was taping Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in New York City (about two hours south of Hartford). Doors were supposed to open at 8pm but because of the delay, they opened half an hour late. During that half hour the crowd was forced to wait outside in the freezing Hartford night. Once the doors were open and the crowd got situated, the show went off without a hitch. Matt Pond took the stage around 10pm in a suit, no tie and the top button unbuttoned. Matt Pond is a strikingly handsome man, looking somewhere between Dax Sheppard and Paul Rudd with a beard. As soon as he stepped on stage, he commanded the room. Although generally known as a balladeer, his latest album, The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand is quite upbeat. Because of that, the set was a solid mixture of uptempo numbers with ballads mixed in.
The set kicked off with “KC,” the opening track from his 2011 album, Emblems. The song is fairly upbeat even though it starts off with a solo acoustic verse before the rest of the band comes in. The song closes out with guitarist Chris Hansen playing beautifully echoed arpeggios that sounds like something straight out of a U2 track. The uptempo feel continued with a back-to-back selections from the new album: “Let Me Live” and the album’s lead single “Love to Get Used.” The latter being the most uptempo track played of the night.
The set severely slowed down with “New Hampshire.” Pond put down the guitar and allowed the pianist to do all the instrumentation of the normally solo acoustic track. With no guitar to inhibit him, Pond was able to sing at his most emotional. While I was never a fan of the song recorded, there is something about seeing Pond live that made the track feel particularly earnest and heartfelt. Unfortunately, the mood was interrupted a bit as he had to request the soundman turn the monitor off mid-song. It was hard to tell if this was prima donna behavior from Pond or if this was an egregious sound faux pas.
Pond attempted to get the energy back for the set’s closer, “Halloween.” It was not the smoothest transition or the biggest bang for a closing, but apt enough. The crowd, a large contingent there to see Pond, were pleased by the set. As the Matt Pond fans moved out, fans of Jukebox the Ghost pushed towards the front.
The tour in general is a little odd. Matt Pond is an earnest balladeer at heart while Jukebox the Ghost is somewhere between Two Door Cinema Club mixed with Ben Folds. Needless to say, the audience that pushed forward for Jukebox were largely high school girls. As the girls swooned for guitarist Tommy Siegel’s super-skinny jeans and pianist Ben Thornewill’s almost Joey McIntyre good looks, it was hard to not be a little cynical about the band’s set.
Jukebox the Ghost are all proficient musicians. During soundcheck Siegel wowed the crowd with John Mayer-esque guitar solos and Thornewill impressed with classical piano flourishes. Once the set started, the virtuosity was largely turned down in favor of standard power pop (although, there were still some decent guitar solos).
There is something remarkably bland about Jukebox the Ghost’s work. I thought perhaps in a live setting with adrenaline pumping, they might seem less squeaky clean and gain some edge; that was sadly not the case. The band is as polished live as they are on record. As the Jukebox the Ghost set went on, Matt Pond fans who stayed around out of morbid curiosity began to head for the door.
It is hard not to say that Matt Pond won this round. His fans and Jukebox the Ghost fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder to enjoy his set while Jukebox played to a slowly dwindling crowd, losing listeners with every song. While Matt Pond probably gained a few new fans, it is hard to say the same about Jukebox the Ghost.