Mattfest III (part 1) – Matt Stevens, Unto Us plus From Great Height

Venue : The Peel, Kingston-upon-Thames                                       Date : 4 June 2011

And so we have reached the third annual Mattfest at The Peel.  I think there were doubts we would even reach one.  For me, it was a very strong lineup this year, and I will split my review into two – pre- and post- the Fishtank curry.  This review is pre that curry, but post the curry I enjoyed at the Riverside in Hampton with Neil and Bridget.  Two curries in one day is probably excessive enough to be Prog.

The traffic had been useless getting to the Riverside, so we ate later than planned, and the traffic did not much improve for the drive into Kingston, but somehow we managed to get there just before From Great Height opened their set.  I have seen them a couple of times before, enjoy what they do and believe/hope they might go on to bigger and better things.  When I was writing my reviews on MySpace I reviewed their first demo cd – I will have to dig that out.  Anyway, I was pleased to see them on the bill and equally pleased that they had attracted a decent crowd despite being the first band on.  They opened with Lie Of The Land, an atmospheric sound which builds and then crashes into the powerful vocals of enigmatic singer and keyboard player, Adam Ever, and the deep, grinding sound from Michael Alp’s guitar and Paul Buckingham’s bass swirls around his voice before moving into keyboards and the drums of Tim Storey keep the post-rock sound driving uptempo behind the emotional vocals.  They see that Matt Stevens is in the audience, but realise that Mattfest is not named after him.  “Two Matts at Mattfest !”  “More like a Mattduo.”  Next up is The Messenger, a hard, heavy, deep sound with the guitar growing and the keyboards piercing on top, as it develops an epic feel.  The vocals come in and put me in mind of David Bowie or Peter Gabriel, comparisons which I have seen raised elsewhere.  It pushes along easily, the sounds swirling around the tight rhythm, the vocals adding an edge.  Moving along with a keyboard line running behind it all, before it pauses, and as the crowd applaud it plunges on again with a deep sound, into a screech to finish.  They follow that with Initial, the keyboards piercing through and then floating as the guitar circles in sharp and melodic.  The drums kick with the thumping bass as it blasts open, the guitar rasping into that whole post-rock feel which they develop with swirling keyboards until the vocals come in, more narrative than singing intially.  It continues to build and then blasts open, chiming guitar prominant in the gutsy, busy sound.  Holding again with melodic circling guitar, the vocals taking the attention, growing more emotional as the guitar sound grows, until it blasts open again, then calms and fades to an end.  Next up is a new one, Capture/Release, preceeded by an interchange between Adam and Mike, “What do you like, Mike ?” “Eh ?” “Good.”, before the sound surges through and then calms to gentle bass and guitar.  The vocals bite in and the drums kick as the track hits away.  It calms once again and eases along with a melodic sound, the vocals giving an edge to it before it crashes open and rolls along with high keyboards, moving in phases through crashing and more gentle sounds to the close.  It Died A Quiet Death opens with the drums rattling in, driving along upbeat with big riffing and a circling guitar sound before it holds as the vocals roll out.  The guitar is piercing as it circles and then rips through, pushing melodic before the track is holding again as the drums roll and the guitar moves higher, develops with some echo, the vocals rising with it, and then the track crashes away again, rolling uptempo with the guitar really pushing through.  It all comes together and drives on relentless to a big finish.

The bass thunders into Mayday as everything else eases in, and then it bounces away with a sharp edge and a deep sound.  It drives along hard, frantic, busy, into a crashing pause then pounds straight on with the keyboards flowing on top as the guitar slices through.  Spectres At The Feast eases in with considered vocals and then drives away hard and deep and crashing with those vocals on top.  The track is massive and blasting out as it rumbles along, high keyboards and pushing vocals working alongside the deep sound, before it pauses and calms, spirals out again and drives on with the guitar growing, but the keyboards still on top, and it is the keyboards which take us to the end.  Adam makes the fatal mistake of asking Matt why he has a sausage round his neck.  Thankfully Matt replies that it is a long story, but then Adam sits down on stage and says he has time to hear it…we are saved by Matt’s silence.  Adam takes off his top as they begin Disciple, which rumbles away with a definite metal feel to it, while Adam continues with a dramatic performance to follow his start to the song.  Big riffing from both guitar and bass before it holds into something resembling Iron Maiden tones to my ears – which is never a bad thing.  The vocals now have a deperate feel to them as the run on top, before the track kicks away, buzzing to a sharp end.  “I was surprised to see no moshing there, but I’m not going to judge”, says Adam.  I know from those I talk to that he divides opinion within the regulars at The Peel (where the band have now played a few times), but I think he is the sort of bold frontman we need out there, and I have certainly taken to the way he presents himself on stage.  I think everyone agrees that he has a very strong vocal performance to go along with that.  They continue with Invited In By… as it starts gently with Adam singing on top, easing along with flourishes, a complex sound which feels like it is holding back before it pushes into swirling, phasing feedback and the drums kick us out of it.  Crunchy sounds, but Adam’s microphone does not seem to be working as the guitar sound floods into the mix with the keyboards, before tapping from the drums takes us to the end, and Adam saying, “thank you.  That was Tim’s drum solo.”  They finish their set with Split Seconds and big guitar riffing.  It kicks away hard with smashing cymbals and drives into forceful vocals, a huge pounding sound with driving, phasing guitar before it pauses melodic and the vocals become more gentle.  The bass rumbles before it pushes away again with phasing, developing guitar and rocks hard into a crashing finish to a great set which provided a fine start to the day.  They were giving out free cds at the end and are in the process of producing a new ep – you should get in touch with them and get hold of everything you can before they are all gone, because this is a young band with an intelligent, complex and varied rock sound who are going places.

It was at this point I noticed that Simon Godrey and Rob Ramsay from Tinyfish had arrived, so I went over to exchange pleasantries with them and other members of the Fishtank, the very lively online forum for Tinyfish.  I also noticed Ian Jones from Karnataka, but unfortunately never found an opportunity to say hello to him.

And now, after a couple of false starts, it was time for the first live performance of Unto Us, featuring Huw Lloyd-Jones on vocals and Dave Roelofs on drums (both previously with Also Eden), together with Andy Gelband on guitar, Lee Bates on bass and Alex White on keyboards.  They open with the guitar riffing in, the bass rumbling hard, the keyboards on top as the drums rattle…but we were too keen to hear their first performance and that was just a final soundcheck.  Then Dave really does tap us in on the hihat to Towers Of Babel, a new track, with the keyboards surging through as the bass rumbles.  The atmospheric sound builds as Huw prowls the stage.  It moves to a pointed keyboard sound as Huw sings into the growing track with deep vocals, and then the track thumps away, pulsing, as the guitar shoots through and it rumbles on as the keyboards rise higher.  It pauses as the bass thumps hard, then the keyboards pierce through with electronica notes, while the drums tap, still holding us.  The guitar echoes as the vocals come back in, the sound rises and breaks out big and drifting, the guitar playing around.  It pauses again into the keyboards and piercing, floating guitar, before rising again and kicking away rolling hard, swirling and atmospheric behind forceful vocals.  The hihat taps as piano runs through the echoing guitar, before the guitar flies away with wah wah.  Huw’s vocals come back in to the fuller sound which is really pushing into a sharp end.  An excellent start for them, and Huw says “welcome to the first time we ever got through that song in one piece”.  They continue with Boy, screeching blues guitar mixing with thumping bass as Huw sits on the front of the stage.  The keyboards jump in with a piano sound tumbling into the growing keyboard sound, then the piano sound rolls away as it continues with a light jazzy feel.  Huw sings in with full, rounded vocals, certainly one of the best voices out there, and the track rattles away, running in phases through the consistent vocals, before it pauses to floating, echoing guitar with the rumbling bass, and eases along.  It is a busy little number as Huw prowls, and then it fades down and his vocals and the piano see it out.  Next up is something from Huw’s Also Eden days, Between The Lines, with the keyboards flooding in alongside thumping bass notes as the guitar gently eases through, melodic and sustained, moving higher and rolling melancholy, while the cymbals tap.  The keyboards take on the guitar theme and Huw’s rich vocals push through hard as the sound eases along, and as the guitar cuts through sharp the vocals push harder and the drums rattle us away as the track races on, driving firmly to a climax and then settling to piano and vocals.  It drifts along and then jumps into a bouncy part, pushing out with some more sharp guitar and flowing keyboards, hard rhythms, as it continues with a very Genesis sound before driving on hard again with a very full, melodic sound rolling to the end.  “That was an old friend”, says Huw.

Just Huw and Alex stay on the stage for Skimming Stones, another Also Eden song, and the piano rolls in to be joined initially by vocals with a fragile edge to them.  The vocals grow as the track progresses and as it drifts and sways along they produce a beautiful version of an excellent song, which opens up with full vocals before it finishes to a well deserved roar of applause.  “This song doesn’t have a title”, and it is another with ‘just’ Huw and Alex, this time a more gentle, lower sound, the piano tumbling through with flourishes before the vocals grow and soar out powerfully, Huw singing the final line as “perhaps we did all right when we played The Peel today”.  On a first hearing it has great promise and belies Huw’s comment “if we’d had more material we wouldn’t have been so brave”.  The rest of the band come back on to the stage and they finish their set with Plan B.  The guitar phases before the drums bite and it blasts out in bursts, hard edged as it rocks away.  The vocals are very powerful again as it drives along, and the sound rises as the vocals soar.  It pauses down and holds as the vocals develop, and then the guitar shrieks out before Huw introduces the band.  The keyboards surge through, prompting Huw to declare “samba” before his vocals come back in to the huge sound they have created which is now pushing on.  The drums are thumping, cymbals crashing as the sound is released and it flies away, the guitar screeching ever higher as the massive sound rumbles hard into a crashing end to a brilliant first gig from another band to look out for.

Next up is Matt Stevens, very well known to many of us within the audience, and much anticipated.  In fact, I can see Mike from From Great Height getting ready to video some of the performance.  For those who do not know, Matt plays instrumental songs using ‘only’ his acoustic guitar, a few pedals, some looping, and a lot of magic.  It certainly seems impossible that he could produce the wonderful and expansive sounds that he does without the use of magic.  He launches straight in with Rusty, a new number, and it flows along uptempo, staying high with flourishes with a Spanish feel coming through, and Matt is already producing some incredible sounds, playing around with the main theme, developing other parts, repeating and pushing, taking things discordant then sharp.  There is a huge cheer as he finishes that one and he then continues with the far more familiar Burning Bandstands, strumming hard and stacatto to open before it flows away with a wonderful hook, producing some high flourishes, again with something of a Spanish feel, until it pauses, circles deeper and then flows away again, moving uptempo in phases as he develops that original theme in so many different ways, his fingers moving so fast on the strings at times, and he really trembles the sound higher as it pushes on.  I’ll be honest with you – as I am writing this I realise I cannot even come close to doing justice to the sounds Matt produces in a written review like this.  You really must get over to his bandcamp page and have a listen.  Next up is Dolls House, Matt tapping the body of his acoustic guitar to start with, and then circling in with the melody.  He whips one of his leads before plugging it in, and maybe that was a mistake because it all turns quiet.  “I wasn’t expecting that,” he says, before adding “I finally proved its not backing tapes !”.  He starts again, easing along gently with this one, and soon is strumming on the neck of the guitar, adding faster flourishes, then working the sound quicker and higher above the deep consistent main thread, repeating as it rises ever higher before it eases down to finish.  It is “ridiculous time signature time” and there is a lazy sunny sound running under Scapegoat, as it eases along melodic, a deep sound coming through which it works around, before high, piercing flourishes are added on top.  Matt holds his guitar upright and plays bass notes before a sudden, intentional stop.

He continues with Moondial, the sound circling in deep and melodic, and Matt adds piercing Spanish sounds on top of that as it drifts along.  It goes quiet, and sadly we can hear the talking at the back of the room rather than the music.  It is not as if those who wanted to talk did not have other options on the day – there is the middle bar to The Peel, newly refurbished and with seating, or the sun was glorious outside.  It would not have taken much to show the necessary respect to the artist on stage, and to those who had paid to see him.  Anyway, Matt develops the deep theme in something of a mournful way before he strums through hard, pushing it again and drowning out the sound of the chatter, a stacatto feel to the strumming as he develops high, piercing, pointed sounds on top, repeating and circling them before easing it down to end.  He gets out his eBow for 8.19, saying “this one’s for the Fishtank, who very kindly got me this gig” (the Fishtank being the online forum for the fans of Tinyfish, and some members from there had put Matt’s name forward at the Pendragon gig the previous Saturday when Twang was looking for another act), and a voice across the room responds with “tossers”.  Everyone knows it was you, Tim (Mouse).  Anyway (again), Matt strums in light and upbeat, rolling along uptempo before he adds buzzing flowing notes with the eBow, easing down into a quiet melodic circling before pushing on and repeating the eBow part, and the track moves into a frenzied echoing with distortion and more buzzing to finish.  He closes his set with Big Sky, strumming in hard, melodic and deep before it drives hard and gently repeats into a rise before it rolls along and then moves into  a quiet part (Matt looking up at the chattering few at the back), until it rolls on again.  It holds as high pointed notes repeat and develop, with the main theme adding in.  He comes to the front of the stage and surprises everyone by jumping off !  Matt stands in the room, taking the music to a false end, then strumming through deep again, before leaving his guitar on the stage, still producing throbbing sounds, while he gets himself a drink, then comes back, sits down, and strums through to the end of an awesome set.

You really do have to see Matt Stevens live to properly appreciate just what he does, and you should make sure you do it soon because he is planning to stop his solo gigs and move on to something else.  If you enjoyed his set at Mattfest, or if you want to get an impression of what he did, then his latest download release Live In Blackpool is available for only £5 on his bandcamp page and features the same setlist.  It is easily more than worth the money he is asking for it.

And so we headed off for the Fishtank curry.  Part 2 of this review, featuring Nerve Toy Trio, Alan Reed and Touchstone, will follow shortly.

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One Response to Mattfest III (part 1) – Matt Stevens, Unto Us plus From Great Height

  1. Matt Stevens says:

    I shall post this on my site – thanks loads James 🙂

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