Matthew Sweet (photo: Patric Carver)
There is no better place to see a show in San Francisco than the Fillmore. It’s big but not too big. It’s got great sound. There are no seats on the main floor. Also, if you are feeling a wave of anti-social hermitism crash over you, hiding in the poster room for a song or two is always an option.
So, I was pretty psyched to hear that Matthew Sweet was coming to the Fillmore. The last time Sweet played there, I was a junior in high school on the other side of the country. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Sweet. Maybe it’s because he looks more like a cross between the friendly guy who works at the grocery store and hangs out at metal clubs at night and the “cool” middle school history teacher that’s just teaching until his novel is finished. I love — love — a underdog nerd. Sweet, my friends, is definitely that nerd of the mid-’90s alternative pack.
He’s pathologically uncool in all ways — even his sound. With his gentle harmonies and his borderline-pretentious noodling, he doesn’t fit in with the crowd. But, man, the way he toes that uncool line makes him one of the coolest cats around in my book. When other people were clinging like noisy little barnacles to the side of the S.S. Grunge, Sweet opted to sail sweeter tunes on his own terms.
Starting with his awkward humblebrag about having gold records stored away in a closet somewhere and ending with that vivacious sound of his, I knew the Sweet I’d always loved was practically unchanged by time. Opening with “Time Capsule” from 1993’s Altered Beast, Sweet’s vocals are as smooth as ever. Practically spreadable at room temperature, the timbre of Sweet’s voice has always made the sour things in life a little more tolerable. He sings plenty of songs about loss and sadness — this one included — but, man, are they beautiful. Only Matthew Sweet can cheer me up with a rejection song.
Another highlight of the evening was Sweet’s “Pretty Please” off of his 2017 album, Tomorrow Forever. Forever was funded by fans through Kickstarter, and all of the songs on the album feel very much for the people. “Pretty Please” is an inviting tune that shows off Sweet’s ability to hold onto that kicking college rock sound that bands like R.E.M. long ago traded for mundanity and more commercial success. Way to stay true, Sweet. Tomorrow’s Daughter, his latest album, was also heavily featured in the set list. While perhaps a little janglier and messy than Sweet’s previous work, Daughter still retains that catchy, satisfying vibe…while mostly being built around songs that are lyrically a bummer. Great show.
Sweet had some great company on stage, too. the Dream Syndicate opened with a powerful set that included psychedelic rock tunes “Medicine Show” and “Out of my Head.” Guitarist Jason Victor proved himself to be a powerhouse performer, playing guitar during Sweet’s set.
It’s a shame more people were not there to see it. Low ticket sales led to a sparse but happy crowd. I look forward to Sweet making more music, bringing the melodic and the melancholy together forever.