M. Ward, Somerville Theater, September 17, 2006
Indie singer-songwriter M. Ward has been attracting attention of late — enough to fill the Somerville Theatre last Sunday. His new Post-War (Merge) boasts contributions from a cast of indie all-stars including Neko Case and, from My Morning Jacket, Jim James. His work as a producer (under his full Matt Ward moniker), particularly on Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis’s solo debut and I Am the Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey (Vanguard), has only improved his standing in the who’s who of indie rock.
Ward had his own touring band to support him Sunday. They took the stage to the Daniel Johnston song “To Go Home” (covered on Post-War with Case singing harmony) and then played it, a stunner even without Case’s lilting voice. Ward didn’t look up from under his baseball cap till he’d gotten through a few songs, tapping out keyboard lines, leaning over the mic nonchalantly, singing in a muddy, sunken drawl. He was aided by a versatile band with two drummers, former Decemberist Rachel Blumberg and Jordan Hudson, who doubled on xylophone. Blumberg and Hudson locked into a powerful groove for the soldier’s lament “Requiem.” And in a rare moment of agitation, Ward sang/screamed, “He was a good man and now he’s gone.”
Ward has said that Post-War is, as advertised, an exploration of the aftermath of war, particularly its effect on families. So why do some tracks seem so breezy? “Chinese Translation” is a ditty about a young man who visits an old man for love advice and then listens as the sage tells him how he once did the same. Live, Ward stretched himself on the tune, at times singing in a register higher than his usual deep croon.
He took the stage alone for an encore, pulling off an intricate, mesmerizing guitar solo. After a few minutes, the crowd cheered him into silence and he segued into “I’ll Be Yr Bird,” on which he slyly ad-libbed, “I ain’t Vic Chesnutt, I’m no Bob Mould.” Maybe not . . . but he’s in their league.
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