I had never heard of Phosphorescent before, which I suppose is a good position to be in when writing a live review. I bet a lot of you haven't either, so we're both in this together. Phosphorescent, aka Matthew Houck, played in a dark room that was part of an art gallery in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Fireproof. The gallery contained old pictures of people singing gospel and playing banjo in cornfields and on the porches of rotting houses. It was the perfect art to compliment the music, but one would assume that the owners of the gallery thought of it the other way. Either way you want to look at it, it was a perfect space to hear Houck's perfect set.
Phosphorescent hails from Athens, Georgia, a place that I know nothing about other than to associate it with R.E.M. and The B-52's. I imagine it as a place where people drink whiskey on their porches while wearing overalls. Children listen to the radio instead of television and call refrigerators "iceboxes." Of course none of this is true, as Athens is a thriving college community that harbors lots of talented musicians and artists. But hey, for the sake of the art exhibit and the music, I'm sticking to my horrible stereotypes.
Phosphorescent is a full band on their recordings, but Houck played solo, which was a treat for me as I enjoyed the live solo show much more than I do the music I saught out after the concert. On record he sounds like a perfect synthesis of Neutral Milk Hotel and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, but live he reminded me of the beautiful early Bob Dylan love songs that people usually forget about. He sang beautiful 1-4-5 folk songs that had the imagery equal to Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "To Ramona." I'm not calling this dude Dylan, I'm just saying that folk songs don't have to be simple in their message and imagery. They can be complicated and dense and still retain the simplicity and beauty that they were designed for. Houck understands all this.
Houck's voice still sounds exactly like Will Oldham and Jeff Magnum, it's real hard to argue this. But it was impossible to not sit in awe as a group of 50 kids watched a guy dressed in a Christmas tree jacket sing acoustic love songs in a small dark room while smoking cigarettes and sipping warm beer. Folk you.