All of those things were on clear display last Friday night, from the moment Nathanson took the stage at the sold-out Intersection in Grand Rapids (to the theme of Superman, no less). I've seen Nathanson once before, as the opener for Third Eye Blind at a summer festival back in 2009, but this was the first time I got to see him headline a show, and boy was it a riot. Singer/songwriter (and surprisingly good beat boxer) Rachel Platten opened the show, proving herself the perfect companion to Nathanson in terms of pop hooks, stage presence, and interesting pop covers (though a piano take of Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice" was a bit too gimmicky for my taste). Still, Platten played an entertaining set that probably placed her somewhere in the upper echelon of opening acts I've seen (always a pleasant thing to say, since I've seen more than a few trainwrecks), and had me making a note to check out her material.
The aforementioned "Laid" provided one of the most enjoyable singalongs of the night, while "Still," which has become a favorite of mine from Some Mad Hope over the years, was a welcome addition to the set. "Detroit Waves" was an obvious tribute to Matt's Michigan surroundings and was elevated by a riveting snippet of U2's "Exit" halfway through. The song, which is one of the darker and more obscure cuts off the band's legendary Joshua Tree album, fit perfectly within Nathanson's own composition and was the first of several terrific little covers to appear in the setlist. That gave way to "Bare" and "Amazing Again," a pair of songs from the older records that were clearly less known amongst the crowd, but no less terrific in execution. "Amazing Again" was particularly notable for featuring best cover moment of the night, in the form of the first verse of "Angels of the Silences" by the Counting Crows. I was hoping this would turn into a more extended cover, but those hopes were cut short as Nathanson returned to the chorus of his own tune a bit too soon for my taste.
Despite a slew of great songs and performances, entertaining moments of crowd banter, and the fun "trainspotting" game to be played with his cover choices, Nathanson saved his aces for the end of the show. The euphoric "Room at the End of the World" was the highlight of Modern Love and one of my four or five favorite songs of last year, and hearing the song's immaculate chorus blaze forth in this environment was every bit as fantastic as I thought it would be. As Nathanson sang that song, I smiled to myself, basking in the moment, but also in the dozens of moments from last summer that it returned me to, and I felt like maybe, despite the bitingly cold temperatures outside that night, summer wasn't so far off: like it was almost in my grasp. "Faster," Love's first single and one of its catchiest numbers (which is saying something for a record that was brimming with irresistible hooks), was a perfect opener in album context, but works almost better in the live one, moved towards the end of the set. Nathanson led the crowd in a synchronized clap that showcased the audience's excellent sense of rhythm (or, in a few cases, lack thereof), before blasting through one of the night's most fun and high energy performances: it was a knock-out. And "All We Are," the lyrically driven closer from Some Mad Hope, provided a gorgeously downbeat and acoustic finale to the main set.
1. To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts
3. Modern Love
5. Queen of (K)nots
6. Laid (James cover)
8. Detroit Waves -> Exit (U2 snippet)
10. Amazing Again -> Angels of the Silences (Counting Crows snippet)
11. Kiss Quick
12. Car Crash -> Fuck You/Jolene (Cee Lo and Ray LaMontagne snippets)
13. Room at the End of the World -> (Tributes to Davy Jones and Whitney Houston)
15. All We Are
16. Come on Get Higher
17. Wedding Dress