About halfway through Saturday night’s excellent set at The Granada Theater, Phosphorescent band leader Matthew Houck coughed one time too many.
“I’m sorry, y’all. I’ve got quite the cold,” he announced to the surprise of few in the audience.
After watching him power through a couple of false starts, rearrange a couple monitors with the sound technician and audibly sneeze a time or two, it was obvious Houck had fallen victim to the swift changing of the seasons.
“This velvet voice that you’re all accustomed to hearing is a bit damaged, but we’re making it through,” Houck deadpanned.
And make it through he and the band did, putting on an inspiring and memorable 90-minute set that showcased Houck’s heartfelt songwriting and made up for lost time. It’s been five years since Phosphorescent’s last proper tour, and if some internet sleuthing is to be believed, seven years since their last Dallas appearance.
“It’s been a hot minute, Dallas,” Houck observed at a pause near the start of the show.
A lot has changed in the intervening years. He earned the greatest praise of his career in 2013 with the release of Muchacho, an album that reflected a lot of inner turmoil. Following that tour, he suffered through a nasty bout of meningitis but fortunately recovered in time to start a new life journey. He got married, had kids and relocated to Nashville, where he built a home studio and logged the hours that have resulted in C’est La Vie, his brilliant new album, whose title graced the back of The Granada’s stage in bright, fluorescent lights for the duration of the performance.
Houck’s fans were savoring this appearance, cheering wildly for songs new and old, shouting out requests — a fan’s shoutout for some early material resulted in Houck veering off course and leading the band into versions of 2004’s twin deep cuts, “South (Of America)” and “Joe Tex, These Taming Blues.”
As an aside, let’s pause to appreciate Houck’s creativity in naming songs. With songs like “I Am a Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass All Day)” and “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama),” he’s reached Nick Cave-like territory in the naming department.
The set list was peppered with songs from C’est La Vie. If you include the “Black Moon/Silver Waves,” the tense instrumental track that kicks off the album and served as the band’s stage entrance music, and excluding its bookending instrumental track, the new album was played in its entirety. Houck’s absence from the stage made these songs resonate more than usual from material with such a recent shelf life. Of course, his most recognizable tracks also made appearances. “Nothing Was Stolen,” “The Quotidian Beasts” and his signature hit “Song For Zula” all brought down the house with their anthemic choruses and collective driving force.
Of course, his most recognizable tracks also made appearances. “Nothing Was Stolen,” “The Quotidian Beasts” and his signature hit, “Song For Zula” all brought down the house with their anthemic choruses and collective driving force.
Houck has also assembled quite the band for this tour. As a sprawling seven-piece featuring an extra percussionist, a piano player and Houck’s wife, Jo Schornikow, on organ and keys, the band used its versatility to an advantage. Throughout the set, they channeled the jet take-off intensity of Neil Young & Crazy Horse on the searing “Around the Horn,” melodic Laurel Canyon vibes with the blissful “My Beautiful Boy” and even incorporating extra hints of Tropicalia into the rollicking “New Birth in New England.”
Throughout the set, despite his presence right in the center of the stage, Houck held court with guitar or mic in hand. He allowed each musician their solos and showcase moments while intently locking in from time to time with each. It’s a beast of a band and one that could succeed playing arenas if the business afforded artists like Houck that luxury.
Five-plus years is a long time between gigs. With the outpouring of support as strong as it was Saturday night, it’s likely to assume that Phosphorescent fans are a patient and appreciative bunch who won’t mind waiting as long as they need for Houck to make his way back. He and his band will be there ready in turn to deliver.