Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on


Revisiting the ‘Girlfriend’ album with Matthew Sweet

In a time when both the music industry and the artists themselves are struggling to figure out a new financial model that works, the full album performance seems to be the latest carrot being dangled in front of today's music fan. On a large scale, the idea has been overwhelmingly successful, because who wouldn't want to see Bruce Springsteen play through an entire album? Often, it's the chance to see something that you've never seen – such as Rush performing the rarely played 'The Camera Eye' as part of their run through the classic 'Moving Pictures' album.

I've seen the good and bad sides of this concept – on the good side, it's a joyful reunion for both the band/artist and their fans, a chance to revisit a mutually loved piece of work that holds special meaning for all involved. But the other side of it is that when it doesn't work, you can feel the awkwardness on stage as they attempt to track through an entire album that they really have no interest in revisiting, shuffling through the entire running order somewhat listlessly before reaching the end and saying “there's the album, now let's play some other stuff.”

When it came to the idea of Matthew Sweet performing the entire 'Girlfriend' album, I knew that there was no way that the idea could possibly fall short – and I'll admit that it was the optimist in me thinking that. Although I had seen a show from Sweet in 2008 on the 'Sunshine Lies' tour that was a bit sub-par, I just had a good feeling about this 'Girlfriend' thing, because the source material he was working from had been so magic and as a result in my mind, the mojo would be too good for this not to work out.

From the cosmic feedback that emanated from the amps at the opening of 'Divine Intervention,' it was clear that it was indeed going to be quite a “divine” night of music at the Kent Stage. Both on record and in the live setting, Sweet has always had a great band of players behind him and on this evening, it was mostly the usual suspects with longtime drummer Ric Menck – himself a veteran of the original 'Girlfriend' album sessions and Menck's fellow Velvet Crush member Paul Chastain on bass and vocals, with Dennis Taylor filling out the lineup on guitars and additional backing vocals.

This lineup of players paired with Sweet proved to be tactically the perfect unit to tear through every inch of the 'Girlfriend' album with fully charged amounts of enthusiasm that properly rendered each cut as remembered with not a single second of that feeling like it was tossed off as album filler.

Statistically, 'Girlfriend' might be front-loaded with 'Divine,' the syrupy 'I've Been Waiting' and of course, the unforgettable title track, but it's the rest of the songs that remind you exactly how good of an album 'Girlfriend' was and in 20 years, it hasn't lost a single bit of its charm. After playing those first three, Sweet quipped “thank you, goodnight!” and said “now, we're getting to the deep tracks.”

All of these years later, I'm sure I'm not the only one who's learned a little bit more about life and with those additions, comes a better understanding of exactly what Matthew Sweet was getting at with the songs on 'Girlfriend.' You gain a stronger appreciation for the mental numbness that he captured so perfectly with 'You Don't Love Me' (which really came through as he performed this one live) and the resignation that lies behind the words as he sings “what a beautiful moment/ the truth comes out at last/ once your heart would own me forever/then this passed/and what a beautiful moment/as my head comes apart/drunk and in a manner of saying, wasted.”

Another moment from 'I Wanted To Tell You,' just the thought that “I wanted to tell you....what I couldn't say.” Romance, as we know now, can reduce even the most articulate person to nothing at the moment when they need that string of words the most.

Summarizing the album, Sweet told Rolling Stone at the time that it was released, “It's funny how the album ended up showing everything I needed to feel. Everything I needed as an antidote is there.” I think that says a lot about why Girlfriend' still works so well as an album today – it covers the entire range of emotions and mental confusion that we've all experienced. The divorce that inspired Sweet's third album, which ultimately would provide his breakthrough moment, gave him some of the most potent material he'd ever release.

The current crop of 'Girlfriend' shows is a very necessary chance for fans to revisit a true classic album and although Sweet chuckled when an audience member suggested that perhaps he should release a live album from these shows, one can hope that these performances are being documented in some form. Sweet and his band paid perfect tribute to the spirit of 'Girlfriend' and it would be a shame to not bottle the moment.

There are about two weeks of dates left on the current tour and if you've got a copy of this album sitting in your collection, don't you dare skip out on this show. Alternatively, if you're looking to discover a great album you might have missed, your moment of discovery awaits.

Additional stuff:

Matthew has a new album out called 'Modern Art' (from which he played only the current single, 'She Walks The Night' during Thursday's performance) which you can check out here.

He's been doing quite a few interviews about the new release and the 'Girlfriend' shows - read a recent chat with Matthew done by Scott of 3 Minute Record for KDHX and also, Mike Ragogna's interview with Sweet at The Huffington Post.

After the show was over, I spent some good time revisiting the 'Girlfriend' album and the companion 'Goodfriend' promotional disc that features alternate acoustic and electric versions of many of the 'Girlfriend' album tracks. You can get both discs via the Legacy Edition of 'Girlfriend' that was released a couple of years ago and at the very least, if you already have the album but haven't heard the second disc of 'Goodfriend' tracks, you really need to - it's such an excellent companion to the album.

Dig for example, this alternate take on 'Girlfriend.'