“Before, I was pretty lost. Really unhappy. For years. A lot of times I didn’t want to leave my apartment because I felt too self-conscious”, Matt Bauer once confessed. This may, in part, explain why this Brooklyn-based banjo player sings the way he does, in a gruff whisper that is, more often than not, softer than that of his female vocal contributor Dana Falconberry. It’s a tone so hushed that it straddles the contemplative and the self-conscious with just the right balance.
Matt Bauer’s headline show at The Slaughtered Lamb, another of The Local’s evenings, certainly presented to us a selection of musicians who can deftly create an atmosphere as well as construct a song. In the case of opener Falconberry, who provided vocals for Bauer’s set and he hers, her often childlike voice, which brought to mind Stina Nordenstam lent a curious air to her work; and while she missed the support of her three-piece band, her solo performance served to expose a tenderness which may not be so easily distinguished with a country trio behind her.
The fluidity of Ryan Francesconi’s set was broken just once when joined by violinist Mirabai Peart; who accompanied his bouzouki (a Greek instrument) for original compositions influenced by traditional Bulgarian music. Peart brought a liveliness to a set otherwise permeated only by applause encouraged by a subtle nod from the multi-instrumentalist, who in addition is arranger and core member of Joanna Newsom’s touring band. Music to lose yourself in, Bauer later stated, which was certainly true, a captivating performer whose solo opening compositions follow the peaks and troughs of the Atlas Mountains, a region from which his music draws much inspiration.
Bauer’s set felt designed to capture an atmosphere which again, similarly to Falconberry’s performance, was achievable as a soloist; aided only by her harmonies. Tinged with a darkness and melancholy from the opening lyrics of Don’t Let Me Out
I killed you and thought that that was that/But right away your ghost comes back/And I can’t get my hands around it/No I can’t get my hands around you,
Bauer presented a character, personal or imagined, of gothic folk-story telling. Songs about “horses, birds and more horses”, he told us, his pieces are steeped in natural imagery, methodically composed and while sparingly lyrical are never lacking in a tender forcefulness from a voice which could quite easily have the gusto of William Elliot Whitmore but chooses to remain a sighing breeze; more akin to Sam Beam of Iron and Wine.
An altogether vast move away from his work with his band, that comprises up to as many as eight band members, and while the set did not offer much in the way of a change in tempo, timbre or themes of tragedy there was a strong sense of compassion and a comfort in these cathartic songs which perfectly suited the setting of the Clerkenwell venue and the 40 or so attentive listeners.
photo by jeremy conant