Oh goodness I'm way behind again. Let's make this one quick.
The opening act pulled out the day of the show after coming down with COVID. Remember COVID? It's still a thing. Now it was only a two-band bill. Sorry about the COVID Turner Cody, but I must say, I enjoy an abbreviated night. Let's normalize two-band bills without requiring life-threatening illnesses.
Somewhere near 8:30 Major Matt Mason USA took the stage. Or specifically Matt Roth did. Roth has performed as Major Matt for three decades. The project is his songs, his guitar, and his voice. He performed the first song solo before inviting his rhythm section to join him. This trio has performed together for several years, and every show brings the band closer to telepathic. Dan Bridges plays bass. Brian Hurtgen, drums. They move well together through the anti-folk-cum-indie rock compositions that have a surprising number of changes, and even approach hectic territory with multiple stops and starts. Hurtgen gets to go crazy sometimes. Bridges often moves up the neck of his bass, providing chords while Roth solos on his electric guitar. In front of the microphone, Roth is open and conversational. He's chatty with the large Wednesday night crowd. His lyrics are uplifting with Zen messages that reflect Roth's path to being a better human. There is no cynicism nor anger. It's curious and refreshing. And I can't get enough of it.
Headliner Jeffrey Lewis has also been around for decades. He's also anti-folk-cum-indie-rock. And not coincidently, he and Matt Roth have been friends and collaborators since Lewis joined the fertile Lower East Side unfolk scene in the mid '90s. And he too started the night solo before inviting his current backing band (dubbed "The Voltage") to the stage. But there's not much more that the pair have in common.
I said I'd keep this short, but that's nearly impossible when describing everything that Lewis does. He plays acoustic guitar – sometimes strumming wildly, sometimes finger picking delicately, sometimes kicking a pedal to bathe the crowd in psychedelic feedback. His lyrics are literate and narrative. They're a sort of barely-sung zine full of sarcastic and weary tales of his struggles and too-late realizations. In opening track "People Were Morons," Lewis equates America's revisionist view of smokers with a future historian's assessments of today's smartphone addiction. In the last line he admits he's foolishly addicted to both. Observational and self-effacing, that's about right for a Jeffrey Lewis song.
Lewis is also an artist that has drawn comics his whole life. In past performances, he'd flip through large sketchbooks that served as analog stop-motion videos while performing his songs. Through the years, the books got dogeared and torn and taped and torn again. Today's audiences only see his scanned artwork projected on a screen. He performed three of these "low-budget films" at The Minibar. First, a retelling of The Great Gatsby; later, a synopsis of the Cuban Missile Crisis; and finally, as an encore relevant to his Missouri audience, a two-minute retelling of Tom Sawyer. When the projector wasn’t showing his art, it cast a mutating fractal screensaver that lit Lewis. The Voltage, now consisting of Brent Cole (drums), Isabel Martin (bass), and Mallory Feuer (violin and keys), remained in the shadows throughout the night.
The band's sixteen-song set featured fun and silly songs juxtaposed with raw emotional ones. There were bouncing songs delivered with a full band and others performed solemnly by just Lewis or alongside the plaintive violin of Feuer. There were old songs originally recorded in Roth's NYC apartment as well as four new unreleased songs, including finale "Good Things." This song departed from Lewis' typical mordant material by joyfully listing all the good things there are in the world. It's possible Jeffrey Lewis has one more thing in common with Matt Roth than I thought.