The cramped space that is the Mercury Lounge, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, may seem an odd venue for a Ghostly International showcase, given the label’s pedigree of leftfield techno and other electronic sounds. But October 1 was the night for a different side of Ghostly. It was the night where a techno prince would find his inner rock star.
Label owner (and now New York resident) Sam Valenti IV provided deejay sets before and in between bands, and opening for Matthew Dear’s Big Hands were two of Ghostly’s other live experiments, Mobius Band and The Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities. The Skeletons lulled everyone into a stupor with meandering off-key melodies and vocals oozing with boredom. Mobius Band redeemed the evening considerably, getting a rather full-bodied sound out of its three players. The drummer covered beats live and synthesized, while the bassist and guitarist both traded synth and vocal duties. Near the close of the set, Mobius Band finally had this confused crowd of indie-rockers and industry snobs dancing to the high-energy “Friends Like These.”
After a long delay, Matthew Dear finally took the stage, his tall and wiry frame dressed in dapper black formal wear. Dear, with his Big Hands (a.k.a. his drummer and bassist) in tow, immediately engaged the crowd after the openers with witty, friendly banter. With a tripped-out visual from the cover of his Asa Breed album (released in June via Ghostly) warping in and out behind them, Dear and his Big Hands played through the songs from that record. The setup was simple, and a laptop was still needed to keep the essence of the tunes.
Save for a couple spotty attempts to play without electronics, the sequences played on and left the Big Hands with little to do except provide a bit more backbone. The talented players held their own against technology, though, and showed that if Dear added some Big Feet and perhaps some Big Elbows and jettisoned the laptop altogether, he would have a formidable live show.
Still, Dear was the center of attention. Flailing his arms, banging on a timpani drum and dancing up and down the stage, he was the eccentric performer. But with the end of every song came that interaction with his adoring crowd. He had them eating out of his (big) hand.
A charismatic performance of his new dance-floor-friendly single “Don and Sherri” had Mercury Lounge in a rare footloose frenzy. Closing out his set with a brilliant organic interpretation of “Dog Days” from his less pop-friendly debut, 2003’s Leave Luck to Heaven, may have gone over the heads of some of the crowd. Despite some rough edges, the show was held together by the big personality and the bigger talent of Matthew Dear, pulling off a rare deejay-to-performer transformation with style and humor.