Live Review: Phosphorescent at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - 30.10.18
When I was informed that Phosphorescent would be taking to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire stage at 9:00pm, I thought this was surely a ploy to get the crowd into the venue early, but that they wouldn’t actually come on until half past. Sure, Phosphorescent undoubtedly has enough of a catalogue now to fill two hours, and when they last toured, 4 or 5 years ago, they did so with gusto and enthusiasm that could go on for days, but here in London at the end of a taxing European tour, with Houck and his partner surely already with their minds half on returning to their children in their Nashville home, they would not be extending their set. I was wrong.
Appearing on stage promptly at the announced time, Matthew Houck and his 6 bandmates took no time in getting the crowd moving by launching into the sprightly ‘New Birth In New England’, the lead single from this month’s C’est La Vie, its high energy levels and joyous chorus making it the perfect introduction. The septet kept the excitement levels high by rolling straight into the rollicking ‘The Quotidian Beasts’, Houck relishing the opportunity to let his guitar hum and snarl with a countrified angst, while follow-up ‘Terror In The Canyons’ kept the volume up while cranking the emotion to new extremes.
Following this thrilling opening triumvirate, Phosphorescent essentially played the rest of new album C’est La Vie in a slightly different order. While it’s usually the case that fans come to hear the older material, the songs from the new record were performed so warmly and well-rounded by the impeccably talented band that it sounded pretty much like a greatest hits set anyway. The highlights included the chugging space rock of ‘Around The Horn’, in which Phosphorescent seemed gassed up enough to have blasted the whole of the venue off into the stratosphere. The following ‘Christmas Down Under’ brought the mood down a little, but the captivation levels increased, as the emotional core of the recent album really clicked into place with all of us inside the bubble of empathy.
When the band disappeared after playing ‘These Rocks’, I could scarcely believe that an hour had already passed, but it was obvious that they’d return, as Phosphorescent couldn’t possibly leave their crowd on such an emotional low point. Matthew Houck returned solo for the encore, and cultivated the intimate atmosphere by playing a couple of songs solo, starting with ‘C’est La Vie No.2’, which was received by a rapturous audience. He then reached back to ‘Wolves’, from 2007’s Pride, looping and overlaying his vocals into a cacophony of howls, just as effectively as ever. He then reintroduced his bandmates, who received a deserved roar from the crowd, which only increased in pitch as they sidled into ‘Song For Zula’, Phosphorescent’s iconic torch song which had the audience rapt and swaying. Phosphorescent again got to show off their rock muscles playing ‘Ride On / Right On’, before disappearing again.
There was still time on the clock and a thirst for more, and with neither the crowd nor the band seeming to be ready to end the night just yet, Phosphorescent returned once again. They kicked off the second encore with the oldest song of the night, ‘Joe Tex, These Taming Blues’, which sounded much more polished and pure than Houck ever could have envisioned when he recorded the beautiful-but-scrappy version for Aw Come Aw Wry almost a decade and a half ago. Before they let us go, Houck and co. wheeled out the Crazy Horse-channeling epic ‘Los Angeles’, grouping together in resounding gang vocals and burning the last of the jet fuel left in their engines in an incendiary finale.
Nobody really wanted it to be over, but real life started to creep into people’s minds when they realised it was 11pm and they had to find ways home from Shepherd’s Bush. But, the pure joy of music instilled by Phosphorescent was still palpable, as many could be heard singing along to ‘God Only Knows’ being played over the PA on the way out – that’s just the kind of effect a truly wondrous live music performance can have.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 31st October 2018.