As was the case across the rest of the United Kingdom, in west Leeds tonight the air was filled with the smell of sulphur and there were explosions in the sky. But the question was, would there be indoor fireworks at the Brudenell?
Phosphorescent’s music – a wracked country-noir blues – is more about a long languorous burn that ever it is about pyrotechnics, yet the opening song ‘Terror In The Canyons (The Wounded Master)’ emerges from a swirl of early feedback as if the band are on fire. Taken from the band’s sixth album Muchacho it crackles and fizzes, as it skips along in marked contrast to that record’s generally downbeat and desperate tone. Matthew Houck’s cracked country honk has never sounded more assured, more alive.
Also from their most recent album, ‘Down To Go’ immersed as it is in the most desolate of cosmic steel guitars, is an abject lesson in heartache. In keeping with the very best of country tunes it speaks of hard, dissolute living and the unintended consequences of relationship breakdown. It is the sound of imperious pain.
The set, though, then begins to lose focus and shape, and it is the older material that fares less well. ‘Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)’ sadly is posted missing in action as Phosphorescent’s mind and spirit begin to wander. This will be a view at odds with many others in the room, including Matthew Houck himself. He acknowledges their last appearance here was “pretty good” (magnificent may have been a more accurate descriptor) but he believed this evening to be much better. After three quarters of an hour Phosphorescent are gone to be replaced by Houck, all alone at the microphone with only his guitar and a rental keyboard for company. The latter provides an airy buoyancy to the Mexican cantina essence of ‘Muchacho’s Tune’; a beautiful cover of John Prine’s ‘Far From Me’ suffers badly with the curse of many an intimate venue, the incessant, mindless chatter of people at the bar. It is a fate that also befalls ‘Wolves’, its haunting vulnerability distracted by conversations that could surely have waited until later.
The local social media wires were later humming with hyperbole about the scintillation of the show. Whilst it was far from being a damp squib this would not be a perspective with which I would agree. But like Guy Fawkes himself, I guess it is probably something that will polarise opinion.