Vetiver + Phosphorescent

Museum of Fine Arts, August 1, 2008
By GUSTAVO TURNER  |  August 4, 2008

EPIC Phosphorescent sent Vetiver fans to the exits while delivering a set that would have done Kid
Rock — or at least the Boss — proud. Photo by Tim Bugbee.

Something happened on the road between Western Mass and the MFA, and Brooklyn’s Phosphorescent were late for the opening slot of their bill with San Francisco’s Vetiver. So the latter went on first, delighting the clean-cut capacity crowd that filled the Remis auditorium.

In their live incarnation, Vetiver singer/guitarist Andy Cabic’s songs straddle an uneasy line between the Band and those “ ’70s AM Gold” comps: with their slight lyrics, they often come off as dated MOR. But if Cabic is the captain of this team, drummer (and occasional pianist) Otto Hauser is its MVP. He might look like a pretty surfer dude, but he means business — jazz business. From the impeccable brushwork in the opening “I Must Be in a Good Place Now” (a Bobby Charles cover) to his relaxed, assured shuffle in “You Make Me Blue,” Hauser elevated Cabic’s more pedestrian pieces.

The crowd thinned after intermission, and by the end of Phosphorescent’s brief set many more Vetiver fans had bolted, unamused by the very different artistry and attitude of Matthew Houck and company.

Rocking curly reddish-blond hair, a beard, and a pink T-shirt, Houck looked nothing like Bonnie Prince Billy or the more emotionally tortured freak-folkies he’s usually lumped with. Super-healthy, with great posture, he cut a Springsteenian figure that was confirmed by some epic arrangements. He recast the mournful “Wolves” into something swaggering and muscular: leaning on a piano-and-guitar riff, the song gave the man a fighting chance against those wolves. Between tunes Houck let it slip that he had been digging the latest Kid Rock single, and he confessed to envying the megastar’s boat and chicks.

“Cocaine Lights” ended with a cavernous Houck guitar solo, urgent and paranoid, falling in and out of feedback — and sending more Vetiver fans to the doors. He closed with his own paean to his birth region, “South (of America).” “It never gets cold here,” he sang, “And I can live off watermelons and beer.” Kid Rock couldn’t have said it any better.

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