in performance: matthew sweet

Matthew Sweet. Photo by Evan Carter.

It was, as Matthew Sweet termed it, a “chair show.” That meant the champion of ‘90s alternative pop was seated throughout his Saturday night headlining set at the Christ the King Oktoberfest due to lower back and knee pain and, in all likelihood, an inevitable aging process that afflicts some performers far more than the works they perform.

“But you can still rock in a chair,” Sweet added, after a smoothly electric, show-opening version of “Time Capsule.”

True enough. While Sweet’s hour-long performance had a certain sage-like quality to it that had little to do with him being seated, what was placed on display was an ample depiction of a pop stylist with a stylistic and emotive range that is often underappreciated.

As such, if Oktoberfest revelers were expecting a power pop party, they got only a sporadic one. For every jubilant blast of melodic, radio-friendly lyricism there was a trip down a darker, but often more fascinating alleyway.

Aided by his longtime rhythm section of drummer Rik Menck and bassist Paul Chastain, Sweet spent the better part of the show in the past, even though he has released three albums of new material since 2017. Specifically, 10 of the set’s 12 tunes came from the three recordings that defined his career during the first half of the ‘90s – 1991’s “Girlfriend,” 1993’s “Altered Beast” and 1995’s “100% Fun.” From that, came a four-song run from “Girlfriend” during the second half of the show that offered the best overview of the emotive breadth within Sweet’s songs.

At one extreme was “Evangeline,” whose bright-eyed melody and somewhat hapless balance of religion and romanticism reflected the level of invention that distinguished so much of Sweet’s material over 25 years ago. In all likelihood, it also formed the basis of the pop profile many audiences still carry of the artist today.

But right after that came “You Don’t Love Me,” a comparative dirge whose narrative desperation, along with a decelerated guitar-rock backdrop that fueled a lengthy quartet jam with Sweet repeating the forlorn title like a mantra, was pure Neil Young. That’s the side of Sweet some have cast aside.

The show wound up with “Sick of Myself” (one of two songs pulled from “100% Fun”) and a truckload of hook-happy riffs as well as a sense of ensemble mischief that played out through a series of false codas.

“I could do this all night,” Sweet remarked. But after the song, his hour was up and Sweet vacated the stage, his endearing though unavoidably aged pop portrait having been given its latest varnishing.

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