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Matt Nathanson offers more than music

Mills College Weekly

By 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, the sidewalk outside of Slim’s in San
Francisco was full of people of all ages. The concert was headlined
by Howie Day, a young singer/songwriter from Maine. Everyone in
line, however, said they were there to see opener Matt Nathanson
just as much. In fact, many people, including myself, were even
more excited about seeing Nathanson.

We had good reason to be excited. Nathanson’s live show is a
blend of comedy, high energy sing-alongs and, of course, amazing
music. His set opened with “Angel,” a song from his first major
label album, Beneath These Fireworks, which was released on Oct.
14. Nathanson put out albums on his own and garnered a large
dedicated fan base before signing with Universal. Matt Fish, a
cello player that Nathanson met in San Francisco when putting out
his first few records, has become a staple in the live show, and
fans love the way the cello sounds with Nathanson’s music.

Nathanson is known for his live show, in which he plays covers
like Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee,” a song that got many audience
members in sing-along mode. He also played a snippet of Enrique
Iglesias’ “Escape,” mocking the singer’s infamous mole and making
the audience erupt in laughter. He introduced the song “Church
Clothes” from 1997’s Ernst as a song about when “your genitals take
over your brain.” Fans know that comment as typical Matt Nathanson,
who gets very personal with his audience. He connects with people
directly, because he says that’s who he is. “I’d love to be more
mysterious,” Nathanson said in a pre-show interview, “but I kind of
have diarrhea of the mouth.” He described the relationship he has
with his fans as “really rad.” Nathanson’s fans appreciate his
honesty and candidness, feeling that it brings them closer to
someone they admire and respect as a musician.

Nathanson was very honest with his answers to questions I posed
before the concert at Slim’s. He said that because he doesn’t do
drugs or drink, being onstage is his release. That’s why talking
about sex is fun for him. “The penis and the vagina are fantastic
things,” he said. “I’m down with ’em and I like to talk about ’em.
I just like to talk about fun stuff, like orgasms are fun, you
know?” He tries to make his live shows like a party, where everyone
connects. “I want everyone to have an event, that takes them into
places where they can laugh, and they can feel, and they can sing,
they can cry… I’m not creating that, I just want to help people
go with me, so we can have this good moment.” Fans had a great time
at the show, and the people around me expressed that they wished
Nathanson could have played longer than he did.

Nathanson, who pierced his nose at 15 because of the bass player
in Skid Row, is the only guy I’ve seen who looks good with a nose
piercing. He loves sushi, the beach, Halloween and horror movies,
U2’s Unforgettable Fire (to get him in “the mood”), and the sex
scene in “Out of Sight.”

He also spoke more seriously about his college experience in
Claremont (near Los Angeles), saying that he is “not one to live in
the moment” and found it difficult to put off music while getting
his degree in English and World Literature. A big fan of poetry and
short stories, his literary knowledge is apparent in his
well-crafted, intelligent songs. He cited Raymond Carver and Joan
Didion as favorite writers. While he was in Claremont, he said he
learned “a shitload” about writing songs, though he doesn’t
consider himself “to be any pro now.” His fans would surely

One of the fans’ favorite songs during the Friday night set was
“Lucky Boy,” which is on the new album with a different twist than
when originally heard on 1999’s Still Waiting For Spring. The
chorus, sung with Nathanson’s trademark passionately rough voice,
goes “It’s a cruel world, and I’m a lucky boy.” Music and art are
Nathanson’s passions and it shows.

Nathanson is one of the hardest-working musicians playing today,
but he always greets fans with a smile, and sometimes a hug. His
fans call them “Matt hugs,” and say that he makes them feel like
they are important. Julie Tyler, who was at the Oct. 24 show, said,
“Matt always makes me feel like he cares that I am here. It makes
me love his music even more. If you want to see someone who cares
about his fans, go see Matt play.” I agree; Nathanson’s concerts
are among the very best I’ve been to.

Nathanson’s fans were thrilled that he was playing in a small
intimate venue like Slim’s. Not only did we feel connected to him,
as an audience we also felt connected to each other. Shared
appreciation of Nathanson and Fish brought us together and built
excitement for all of us.

Next time Matt Nathanson swings through town, look for the long
line outside the venue and get in it. The fans are great, Nathanson
is superb, and you’ll leave feeling excited and inspired. What more
can you ask for?