Since the year 2000, Matt Pond PA, a five-piece from Philly with a penchant for creating thoughtful indie pop music, has released five outstanding albums, each better than the last. In that time, the band has built themselves a loyal fan base that could sell out smaller clubs across the US with ease. However, with the release of last year's Emblems, it seemed clear that Matt Pond PA was destined for something more than cult-like indie hero status. The album was universally appealing and insanely addictive, so much so in fact that it has held the #6 position in my car's CD player since its release in May of '04. Seriously, it's still in there now and I listen to it all the damn time. The album's release was followed by constant touring and critical acclaim, but it never really took off like I had expected. To add insult to injury, the two times that Pond came through Chicago, I was unable to attend. I desperately wanted to see if the band's live show held up to the beauty of their recorded efforts.
When Several Arrows Later, Pond's fifth and latest album was released earlier this month, I thought, "OK, THIS is the one." I made a pact with myself NOT to miss the band this time around. Last weekend, I kept that promise. On Saturday night, Matt Pond PA opened for college kid favorites Guster at Chicago's Riviera Theater. Amid a cast of characters that ranged from Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (it WAS Halloween weekend after all), Matt Pond PA ventured out on stage to play for a bunch of kids that could have cared less.
As I snaked my way up to the front, something I reserve only for bands who have at one time or another made my yearly top 5 list, I realized that at 27, I was probably the fourth oldest dude in the whole venue (yikes!). Matt Pond (the band's leader and namesake) began the set appropriately with "Halloween", the upbeat, pulsating first track from Several Arrows Later. Gladly, the room full of college kids were surprisingly attentive and met the conclusion of Pond's first song with a resounding cheer. This was the moment I had been waiting for for over a year and I have to say, it was worth it. While I would have much preferred my first live encounter to occur at a smaller venue and in a headlining slot, Matt Pond PA sounded better live than I had hoped for. As a result, sharing my magical moment with a group of kids who had never heard MPPA before wasn't even all that annoying.
Dressed in a simple, navy blue button-down and jeans, Pond was charismatic and funny, pointing out the previously-mentioned Master Shake and making the crowd part as if he were Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments so that he could get a better look at the costume.
The entire set was pulled from Matt Pond PA's last two releases, Emblems and Several Arrows Later, which worked for me. "Lilly", "Several Arrows Later", and "Closest" all sounded terrific within the acoustically-superior confines of the Riviera theater. While Pond's beautifully poignant lyrics were somewhat lost on the virgin crowd, they resonated with me all too well. Passages like the opening line to "Closest" - "Lookout, there is danger even in the simple word hello" - and the bridge of the new album's title track - "You should not want to sound like they do / you should want to sound like you" - are what drew me to Matt Pond PA from the beginning and hearing them sung live with all the passion and energy that came with it, renewed my zeal for this band.
In the brief half an hour set, Matt Pond PA actually managed to win over the audience of fans drooling for their chance to hear the opening notes of Guster's "Amsterdam". Not that these kids are the bastions of cool, but in my mind, they represent the "main stream" - those kids that listen to Dave Matthews and 50 Cent in the same car ride, watch "Punk'd" and "Cribs" and wish wholeheartedly that Xzibit would come and "Pimp" their rides. And these were the kids that started getting into Matt Pond PA's set and who gave them a surprisingly large cheer as they walked off the stage. Matt Pond PA has taken their music to new heights in the past two years, creating literal masterpieces of the human spirit and it's about damn time the rest of the world took notice.