The way I discovered Matthew & the Atlas was perhaps not the conventional one. Last year they featured on a beautiful little gem entitled ‘Share More Air’, a collaboration between professional songsters and juvenile lyricists from the Ministry of Stories. I knew nothing beyond that song and his viscerally ethereal voice – when the offer came through to review them I leapt on it.
So it turns out they’re quite a big deal. The upstairs room at the Lexington looked rather barren until 15 minutes before the show, when a horde of smartly-pressed young Thinkies materialised like sardines into the space and stood there politely sipping their pints. So much for my unrestricted view. Saying fie to propriety I removed my shoes and stood on the bench at the back.
What’s the word for when you’re simultaneously happy and awestruck and your heart stoppers up your throat? Or when you feel on the verge of tears but in a good way but for the best part of an hour? Well, that. Matthew and his collective Atlas are decidedly lucky that I am not a nefarious billionaire with the means to enact my dastardly wishes, because otherwise I’d have vanished them away to my evil Appledor mansion that very eve and made them play for me for always.
Sonorous heartbreak in implacable harmonies: how can a group of such meticulously turned out gents (since scruff is the new chic and collars were buttoned up to the top) turn out such soul-summoning stuff? I think something of it lies in this very paradox – in the juxtaposition of meticulous delivery and precisely mapped harmonies against the raw power of the swelling vocals. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a beard. (I am definitely a sucker for a good beard).
The gig rattled along very efficiently – which makes it sound much worse than it was. It’s just that there was something gloriously no-frills about it. They had come to play their songs, and that is what they did; we had come to listen, an so we did – in respectful silence. ‘You’re very quiet!’ opined Matthew himself at one point mid-set, adjusting a string – the only bit of in between rapport they indulged us in – ‘You’re lovely, but you’re very quiet…’ Certainly it was not for want of enjoyment – they simply had us captivated.
Alex Vargos was perfectly twinned as the warm up act, being of the same raw-voiced tear-your-heart-out ilk. It was a shame that more people held off arriving until the headline time – he deserved more of a hearing than the half-empty floor; though that definitely didn’t stop him giving it a ton of welly. For me there was something between his lyrics and the Atlas’ that demonstrated why theirs are great where most are simply very good – but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what that magic final ingredient was.
Then again, on that aforementioned album, where I first began my Atlas journey, the eponymous leader howls out the lyric written for him by an 8 year old girl – ‘I am a little fairy’. Somehow he manages to make this a bold and mystical statement, rather than the ridiculous return I got when I sang along in the kitchen. So perhaps really it comes down to that old adage of song – ‘Tain’t whatcha do…
To The North
A Memory Of You
Everything That Dies
Pale Sun Rose
Within The Rose
Out Of The Darkness
I Will Remain