…well, me and six other people.  Or seven. 

Matt Keating at The Frequency in Madison
Matt Keating at The Frequency in Madison
A particular blessing and curse of living in a city like Madison which is just big enough to occasionally attract a really great national “indie” act, but small enough that, in all likelihood, very few will have heard or even heard of that really great “indie” act, is that occasionally, you might stumble into a show like the one Matt Keating put on at a new downtown club just off of Madison’s Capitol Square called The Frequency. 

Blame it on the Brewers, who are right now closer to a World Series appearance than they’ve been since Ronald Reagan was president, who happened to be playing on home turf that night (the game was showing on the TV in the bar, and the bartenders kept flipping back and forth between that game and the just-as-crucial and far-more-suspenseful Cubs/Mets match-up).  Certainly, piss-poor promotion was a factor.  I hadn’t really seen any ads for the show (or any other Frequency show) in the local weeklies until last week when I chanced upon a not-entirely-flattering blurb in The Onion’s AV Club – and I’d been looking!  

But then again, there’s something about Matt Keating and his music that almost seems to invite and even welcome a small turn-out.  And this, indeed, was the smallest turn-out for a live music event I’d ever witnessed as a participant (topping even ABC featuring Martin Fry’s matinee on the Country Stage at Taste of Waukesha in 2006).  And of the half dozen or so in attendance, I was almost certainly the only one who wasn’t hearing Matt Keating’s unassuming folk rock – an intimate, genuine, unfailingly melodic and endearingly unpretty variety which calls to mind Tom Petty just as easily as latter day singer-songwriter saints like Elliot Smith.  

But it was okay.  With a crowd that small, Keating and his able backing group seemed to have a fine enough time playing for themselves as much as anyone else; and the evening had a pleasant tinge of what-the-fuck nihilism to it.   Still, the songs ruled, and Keating and crew gave the few of us who showed up the show we paid for.  Actually, given that the price of admission was a paltry five bucks, they gave us way more than the show we paid for.  (And if you got to the joint an hour or so earlier, you could hear their sound check, which included covers of Tom Petty and the Byrds as well as Keating’s own “Runaway Clowns”, from the bar)

In person, as on record, Matt has an effortlessly self-deprecating sense of humor, and he peppered the show with a few stories, a few jokes (mainly on himself), and a shout-out the soundman.   Before playing a song called “They Came In May” about how grief sometimes takes us by surprise, he offered a touching tribute to singer-songwriter Chris Whitley who died of lung cancer in 2005, Matt recalled how the two of them lived on the same street and just sort of hung out together, until one day Chris didn’t show up.  

Drawing mainly from his latest album, the double disc Quixotic – easily the strongest record of Matt’s career, and probably my favorite new record of this year so far – along with a couple of new songs that you might find on his MySpace page, the show was alternately raucous and tender and, like the record itself, just a really damn good time.  One of my personal favorites of the new songs “Between Customers”, about a humiliatingly unrequited crush he once had on a girl with whom he worked a Baskins & Robbins counter as a teenager.  In the song, she asks him to give her a ride up to the local cruising spot to see if the guy she has a crush on is there – ouch!  

A song called “Daddy’s On the Roof” was as goofy and sweet and it’s title might suggest, a remembrance of Keating’s dad who’s favorite hobby, according to Matt, was to get drunk, and sing Irish songs from the roof of their house.  (I want that dad!)  Other highlights included “Louisiana” and “Sorry Son”, both powerful singalong rockers that hint at politics without really being political, and “Lonely Blue”, a song from his first album, Tell It To Yourself, released on the Alias label in 1993. 

It was one of the songs that made me fall in love with Keating’s music when I was a frustrated 20-year-old college art major, and it sounded fantastic on a night when I’d snuck away from my partner and kids and our big yellow house in the suburbs after dinner to catch a show downtown.  What a weird, strange, embarrassing, wonderful night it was.  And it was nice to thank Matt in person for stopping by. 

The new record is not to be missed and if you buy it from Matt’s Personal Music Store, “all proceeds go directly to Matt Keating”. He’s also got the album’s terrific opener “St. Cloud” available as a free mp3 download on his website.

Matt’s set list:

St. Cloud
Who Knew
Sorry Son
Do in the Dark
Between Customers
Daddy’s on the Roof
They Came In May
Little By Little
Lonely Blue