Sometimes gigs go on beyond 11pm. You can usually tell when it’s pushing that time because people start to check the clocks on their phones. They weigh up the cost/benefit of staying for the end of the gig and missing their last chance of public transport bringing them home. Inevitably people amble towards the exits before the band leaves the stage.
Phosphorescent in the Workman’s on Thursday was not one of those gigs. Yes, the gig did go on beyond 11pm, but no one considers leaving. Few consider breathing too loudly or thinking too deeply, lest they miss a moment of the beautiful encore brought to us by Matthew Houck, the man who is Phosphorescent, on his own.
He, quite appropriately, has to fight the encroaching curtain to get to the keyboard for Muchacho’s Tune before playing My Dove, My Lamb and Wolves just with his own glorious, cracked voice and his guitar. The crowd look on rapt as the fantastically intimate moment unfolds; Houck himself fighting to hold back the tears, his eyes finally visible after removing his gaudy, pink ‘Miami Beach’ cap, before his repeater plays him out.
The whole show wasn’t as sweet for Houck and his band, the 12th most hipster band on the planet apparently. There are hints to this hipster aesthetic on show too, from the plaid, to the baseball caps, to the facial hair – the touring Phosphorescent look like five truckers and a lady playing the keys – while using their own song Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction) as entrance music and Houck in a Phosphorescent t-shirt add a touch of self-aware irony to proceedings.
A New Anhedonia opens the show proper on a melancholic note, Houck’s immaculate Americana drawl painting a scene of a dusty, deserted prairie. But these angst-wrought laments are not the modus operandi for Phosphorescent merely strings to their bow. Houck can send out a vocal volley if he wants to as evidenced by Terror in the Canyons.
“We’ve never been accused of being a professional band,” Houck says before they take on Joe Tex, These Taming Blues on a request from the audience. Granted, they have had their minor issues tonight – they have had broken wires, mislaid instrument cases and frankly as a six-piece they struggle to fit onto the stage – but there is never any question of the professionalism of their delivery. Even I’m A Full Grown Man, another request that Houck says this band has never played before, sounds seamless.
More than singing off the same hymn sheet, the band seem to be playing from the same brain, so tight is their performance. With the faintest nod or point Houck leads his orchestra like a master conductor, through riffs, improvisations or simply putting down the fantastic songs that he has written.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than on The Quotidian Beasts. Already a brilliant seven minute rock epic on CD, live it is almost overwhelming. Beautiful and touching at points, exhilarating and powerful at others, it’s never less than relentlessly ineffable and deserving of a much bigger stage than the Workman’s can afford.
So inspired is their performance that even the fantastic single Song for Zulu and the incredibly catchy Ride On/Right On do not stand out from what has preceded them. What follows is that heart-wrenching encore.
No one looks at their watches, everyone praying that time will stay still here. They just want to stay in this moment for as long as possible.
Surely Phosphorescent can’t stay a secret for much longer.