Phosphorescent, gig review- 'rich and powerful'

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

Playing his largest UK show to date, Alabama-born Matthew Houck (aka Phosphorescent) has certainly dressed for a celebration.

The cowboy hat is no surprise, but it’s accompanied by matching white trousers and bolero jacket, and quite possibly the most sparkly gold shoes that Shepherd’s Bush Empire has ever seen.

Tonight’s set spans Houck’s career, including his sixth studio album Muchacho, which expanded his Americana sound into electronic territory and took the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter as close to a breakthrough as he has been.

The songs are beautifully recreated by his six-piece band. On “Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)”, the sound swells with layers of keys, guitars and percussion into a lush, unified whole.

It’s followed by a gorgeous “Song For Zula”, with its hypnotic circling synth riff, made all the more poignant by Houck’s worn, cracked vocals, full of emotion. Few singers have such talent for lyrical phrasing.

Two songs performed solo further showcase his voice, while on “Cocaine Lights” he layers vocal upon vocal until the harmonies are rich and powerful. It’s impressive. The band return for the melancholic “Los Angeles”, shifting dynamics effectively through vibrant Hammond organ-esque keys, barely accompanied vocals and a thrilling instrumental build-up.

It’s heartbreaking, but what sweetness in melancholy delivered like this.