Posted by Stephen Smith on 02/22 at 03:09 PM
Maybe it was the excitement of THON. Maybe it was the unusually warm weather in a typically bitter February. Maybe it was the fast approaching weekend. Probably for all of these reasons, campus was humming with excitement on Friday. Flocks of students were decked in fluorescent shorts and T-shirts. The wheels from bikes and skateboards rolled through puddles of melted snow. The air was practically crawling with electricity.
New York musician Matt Beilis added to the voltage with his performance at noon on Friday in the HUB, continuing the Student Programming Association’s weekly Noontime Concert Series. Beilis and his supporting cast did not disappoint a fluctuating crowd of lunch-goers and passers-by. Looking around before the start of the show, I was a little disappointed that the audience was half comprised of SPA organizers. However, the attendance grew rapidly after the band’s lengthy and meticulous sound-check—an unfortunate side effect of the HUB’s open acoustics. Perhaps sensing the crowd’s apprehension, Matt jumped right into the show, starting the setlist without a word.
Upon opening his mouth to sing, it was instantly apparent that Matt had a voice. It was raspy and low in register. He not only nailed the notes, but slid into them, holding them with an equally coarse vibrato. However, his voice also contained a pleasing layer of smoothness underneath its grainy exterior. This created a soulful and textured melody that was audibly satisfying and stylistically unique to Matt and his band.
Matt also displayed his style through his onstage demeanor. Before the show, Matt was eager, but not frenzied. Smiles were frequent, and he joked around to band mates and SPA organizers clustered towards the front row. During the sound-check, when he had to close the lid of his piano in order to see the crowd, the vertically-challenged musician explained humbly to an organizer, “I couldn’t see over the lid because I’m 3-foot-6.” And later in the show, when a tour of prospective students was steered around the concert, Matt called to them mid-song, saying “You should come to Penn State. This is what it’s like here. Every day.”
Between songs, Matt joked and engaged the audience by telling them the title of the next song, why he wrote it, and what it meant. This added a level of connectivity between him and his audience, making the performance feel like an episode of “MTV Unplugged.” His ability to casually appeal to an audience through charm and humor created a very enjoyable atmosphere that meshed perfectly with the excitement flowing through the HUB.
As mentioned earlier, his twelve-song setlist was almost entirely comprised of original material, containing only two cover songs. Having reviewed cover bands in bars for the last several weeks, it was nice to feel the excitement of hearing new music. He played all but one of the songs on his debut album, “Can’t Help But Wonder,” including others likely to be on his next album.
During Matt’s explanations of the songs, the strongest theme throughout all of them was in his decision to pursue a life in music over a more subdued life in the world of business. The cover of his album displays this theme, half dressed in a suit and tie and sitting at a desk, and the other half in a leather jacket sitting at a keyboard flanked by an amp. “Judge Me” and “Let Me Dream” portray his external struggle for independence, while “Without You” and “Why Don’t I Miss You” display his internal struggle with love and its effects. Although I think he could push the subject and style of his songs to gain more edgy lyrics, I liked the purity of his inspiration and his ability to revolve around a central theme for an album.
As for the two covers, Matt has a monthly series of pop song covers on YouTube. For Friday, he chose to play “Hold It Against Me” by Britney Spears and “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars. Though his version of Britney’s song sounded better than Spears’ version, its weakness came from the song itself, rather than anything Matt did covering it. “Just the Way You Are,” on the other hand, was the second-to-last song played and received the largest applause. With over 660,000 views, this is also his most popular YouTube cover song by far. His voice’s range is stretched to its peak, but is still strong. The grittiness of his voice, the full-sounding piano, acoustic drums, and an echo effect on the electric guitar gave the song a raw edge that contrasts well with the more polished radio version. The implementation of these covers added familiarity to the setlist and appealed to Penn State’s fondness for covers.
The bad had a full, balanced sound, even with a minimalistic, three-piece set. The piano handled bass and midrange, while the guitar held the weight of the melodic burden. Drummer Ryan Wegner was very tight. He utilized all the sounds he gets from his kit, whether that be throttling the end with the double-bass pedal, texturing with hi-hat riffs, or breaking it down by keeping time on the floor tom’s rim. Guitarist Pete Couto, if anything, made it look too effortless. His face was expressionless as his fingers whittled away intricate solos and fills. Apart from sheer melodic brilliance, he showed versatility by employing the echo effect during “Hold On” and “Just the Way You Are,” in addition to starting and ending the show with amazing tapping solos.
Unfortunately, even with the extended sound-check, the acoustics were still off. Matt’s piano was difficult to hear. He had a solo at the end that was decent, but it was hard to judge his skills based on that solo alone. Likewise, Couto’s few backup vocals were nearly inaudible. The drums were overpowering, but had Wegner used tala wands or feathers, it would have been too quiet. Furthermore, as the set progressed, the songs started to sound too similar. I would have liked to see some variation through instrumentation or tempo. They had no songs in 3/4 time, which would have created a welcomed change of beat. The venue was just screaming for a song with only Matt’s and his piano or an acoustic guitar accompaniment.
That said, Beilis put on a solid show. After the big finish, about eight people jumped out of their seats to meet him. A pair of kids at the end of the line were reduced to putting their scraps of cash together in order to afford his CD. A girl who sat next to me skipped her 12:20 class to stay and watch the rest of the show. Matt Beilis has the potential to make it on radio pop charts and is doing all the things it takes to get there. I overheard another girl say that she had just seen his YouTube video the day before. His name is getting out there, his band is talented, and his style is distinctive and appealing. I think with a tad more edge and variation, you could see his name outside the BJC. I recommend Matt Beilis, and I highly recommend the SPA’s Noontime Concert Series.
Author: Stephen Smith
Bio: Stephen Smith is currently a senior English major at Penn State. In his free time, he enjoys playing Xbox, drumming, playing his guitar, and writing fiction. His favorite genres include alternative rock, emo, indie, metal, and most anything played acoustically. His favorite bands include Say Anything, Counting Crows, City and Colour, and Daphne Loves Derby.
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