The man and the band

Aqualung, Paradise Rock Club, April 17, 2007
By JIM SULLIVAN  |  April 23, 2007

Just as Bright Eyes is a vehicle for Conor Oberst, Aqualung is the name under which 35-year-old singer-songwriter Matt Hales records. When he tours, Hales plays keyboards and brings along his guitarist brother Ben, drummer David Price, and bassist Jim Copperthwaite, whose wife, Kim Oliver, writes Aqualung songs with Hales. Those tunes are the sort of sensitive, mid-tempo Britpop you might expect to hear on Grey’s Anatomy, which is indeed where most Americans first heard Aqualung when the medical drama featured “The Lake” in 2004. They’re also the sort of tunes that bring to mind Coldplay — something Hales knows even if he isn’t all that happy about it. “They’re our heroes,” he said sarcastically, backstage before their Paradise show a week ago Tuesday. “It’s a lazy comparison.”

The 85-minute set that followed was melancholic and grandiose, spare and panoramic, despairing and hopeful, often all within the span of one song. Indeed, Matt introduced “Glimmer” as “a hopeful song dressed up as a hopeless one,” and before “Good Times Gonna Come,” he called the world “a bit fucked” and the tune “once a selfish song about myself” that now felt more “like a prayer.”

In the past, Aqualung have toured as just a duo, but the full band opened things up, and Hales’s high-pitched, reflective vocals floated over booming bass and a near-constant barrage of keyboard melodies. Many songs — “Another Little Hole,” “Outside,” “Brighter Than Sunshine,” “Black Hole’’ — climaxed with maelstrom levels of intensity. Serious stuff, yes. But there were moments of respite. Matt talked candidly about his three-year-old and launched into an on-the-spot salvo of punk thrash. With the help of the rest of the band, he playfully created a song about Memory Man, Aqualung’s latest Sony release.

The band had intended to close the night with the rarely played “Garden of Love.” But they honored a woman’s twice-shouted request for “Breaking My Heart Again” by playing a shortened version — “an Aqua-medley” — before kicking into “Garden of Love.” Said Matt: “In a genuine, non-bullshit way, thank you for coming.”

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