Okay, I’ll be the first to admit my folly: I was tardy to the Gavin DeGraw party. I mean really tardy. It’s not that I’d never heard of him or didn’t enjoy his music. It’s just that, for some reason, while my friends were all obsessing over him back in 2004 when he first came on the scene, I resisted several opportunities to join them. It wasn’t until I got a chance to fall for his charming personality in 2012 on Dancing with the Stars that I finally saw the error of my ways and drank the Kool-Aid. Since then, though, I’ve been making up for lost time. Now a genuine, bona fide giant Gavin fan in my own right, I recently had my first chance to finally catch him live this past April in Napa, promoting his newest album, Make a Move. You might think that having just seen him two months ago would make me less likely to rush myself to see him again at my alma mater UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre last Friday night when he co-headlined with the phenomenal local boy Matt Nathanson, but well… you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.
I didn’t get confirmation of my access to the show until super last minute, so I literally had to rush right out the door, and while I luckily remembered to grab my camera to get some great shots of the boys from the pit, it was all for naught: I realized as I approached the venue that I had, sadly, not put my camera back together since I last used it. I knew exactly where my memory card and battery were, but had neither with me. I could choose to make myself look a fool in the pit with my iPhone, or I could make the best of what I had. (And yes, that’s why the photos are either stock photos or from previous dates… sorry!)
Anyway, I did manage to get to the venue before it started, but only just. I had forgotten whether or not I’d heard talk of an opener, and when I took my seat, she was just beginning. It took me a minute to place her, and as I tried, I listened to her talking about her day: “What else did I do today?” She thought aloud. “I did my nails… I watched The Bachelorette… I’m gay, I swear! I’m gay!” She mentioned a call from her girlfriend and telling her she’d watched sports instead, but it wasn’t until she began talking about her single and her experience performing it on this year’s Grammy Awards that I realized it was Mary Lambert. I don’t know much of her other than the lovely collaboration she did with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and the aforementioned single, which I witnessed on the Grammys, complete with mass weddings. It was beautiful, and so, it turned out, is Ms. Lambert herself. Evidently I’d missed “Born Sad,” but next up was “She Keeps Me Warm,” which was wonderful live – the girl has a great set of pipes on her.
After briefly explaining a little about the harms of negative body image, Lambert went on to say that she though it was “really important to talk about it,” as well as discussing sexuality in general. She stopped to point out that she was, in fact, wearing a crop top, noting, “I have midriff!” excitedly. “And it looks good!” This was a perfect segway to her next piece, a spoken word called “Body Love” that was equal parts powerful and bold; it’s inspiring without being preachy or judgmental. I like her single, but her overall attitude is completely contagious and made an instant fan out of me. She’s adorable, but she stands for something, and it’s important. With lines that liken plastic surgery to other forms of purging, calling out those who “still want to be beautiful at the morgue”/”might as well be buried with our shoes and handbags and scarves, girls,” I sat, silently transfixed before noting “wow: intense and gutsy.” Lambert neared the close of the impactful piece with “you are worth more than who you… attract.”
After the stunning (if a bit dark) “Sarasvati,” Lambert joked, “I thought I would start the set off on a light-hearted note…” and then promptly began to laugh right along with the crowd. She went on to explain that much of her older material is four or five years old, but that her newest album includes songs that are “fresh,” and some even joyous. Her new single, she explained, “is like the funnest song… ok, the only fun song I’ve ever written.” The song, “Secrets,” was as fun as was promised, and concluded her short but excellent set. “My name is Mary Lambert, enjoy Matt Nathanson and Gavin DeGraw!” She shouted to the audience over the applause. “Thank you so much for having me, you guys! Have an amazing time! Hold hands? Give each other a hug! It’s an amazing time to be alive!” I’m not sure I have much more to say other than how much I enjoyed Lambert’s music and personality equally, and look forward to a full-length album release sometime soon.
It wasn’t long before it was time for Gavin DeGraw, who began before the sun had even set entirely. I admit, I wondered how this particular co-headlining tour might work: would they take turns going first, depending on the night and locale? Would they flip for it? Would the break their sets up into shorter sub-sets and rotate a la “NKOTBSB?” I honestly can only say that on this particular night, Gavin was up first and whether because that’s how it worked out or because it was a hometown show for Matt (or both), Nathanson got to play last. Anyway, DeGraw began with “Leading Man,” allowing me to note two things right off the bat. First of all, he wasn’t playing the exact same set from the show I’d just seen in April, which I always appreciate. (Not that I’d have much minded.) And two, there’s something DeGraw has that simply can’t be taught. I’m going to have to give it the cliche’d je ne sais quoi rather than trying to name it, because it’s just that: I don’t know what. Whatever it is, it’s in the way he carries himself, the way he moves, his presence. In any case, I love to watch him. He’s confident and self-possessed; he just has it, and I never tire of witnessing it.
After “Chariot” and then “Sweeter,” DeGraw finally addressed the fans. “Good afternoon!” (Okay, so it was after 8pm. But in his defense, that is roughly afternoon in the music industry!) “My name is Gavin DeGraw, and it’s a pleasure to be here tonight. In a Greek theatre, in Berkeley. How many of y’all live here? Nice theatre! Very Greek!” As expected, this got a laugh from the crowd. “It makes me wanna comb my hair forward like Caesar… I don’t do much talking. Let’s get back to the music.” And so he did with “Follow Through,” allowing the audience to sing a gorgeous chorus, much to DeGraw’s delight.
“Is everybody here with a loved one tonight? A good friend, a family member, a loved one?” DeGraw asked, adding that he didn’t want to put pressure on “brand new relationships… Because I care. I care about your happiness. This song’s about being with the one you’re supposed to be with…” He went on to say that some of the people in attendance that night were “lookin’ over and wondering if this is the one,” saying, “I wanna help you out, because I’m a humanitarian. If you’re thinking they might be the one… they are not the one. Cause that’s not how it works! Then there’s the lucky few who knew right away, like my parents. If you’re one of those people, then this song is for you. It’s called ‘We Belong Together.'” Next came hit “Best I Ever Had,” followed by a pause where DeGraw asked for applause for his touring band. “Give it up for these guys, they’re so awesome!”
After a brilliant cover of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” into DeGraw’s own “Everything Will Change” came the irresistible “Radiation” with a little of Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” thrown in for good measure. (And a little tambourine, which never hurts!) After another wave of applause, DeGraw took to the piano for the beautiful “Soldier,” which he dedicated to the men and women in uniform. “In Love with a Girl” came next,” and then “Finest Hour.” Next came DeGraw’s debut hit “I Don’t Want to Be,” and he asked the crowd to sing parts of it for him, excitedly shouting “I like that!” when they were happy to oblige. DeGraw danced around the stage as the band jammed, pointing to them for another round of applause before disappearing, evidently ending the regular portion of his set.
When he returned for his “encore,” it began with the title track from his most recent album, “Make a Move,” and then he addressed the audience again. “Berkeley, California! Thank you so much for making this such a special night for us!” He asked for another round of applause for Ms. Lambert, reminded everyone that Matt Nathanson would be out shortly, and introduced the members of his band. “We had a great time! Are you all ready?” He closed his set with “Not Over You,” during which I got one last display of that x-factor I so love in him: during the song, DeGraw tripped over his fallen microphone stand. Though potentially embarrassing, he laughed it off easily, making fun of himself without missing so much as a single beat. The crowd sang a chorus or two for him, and then he was vanished with a smile as the crowd roared all around me.
With time enough between sets to grab a snack, a t-shirt, and a beer, there was nothing to complain about. Just after 9:30, Mr. Nathanson took the stage saying, “sweet, sweet Northern California! Berkeley, San Francisco, how are ya!?” He began with “Kill the Lights,” which features the line “I found religion at the record store/I found heaven on your kitchen floor” that I couldn’t resist. “I’m feeling good to be home!” Nathanson exclaimed when he’d finished. “I’m feeling good to be at the Greek! This is a song about a woman and San Francisco. It’s called ‘Annie’s Always Waiting.'” When he got ready to teach the crowd a part to sing and clap along, Nathanson singled out one man near the front. “Sir, sir! You there, talking to your lovely lady with the gum in your mouth. Are you ready?” Moving on, he addressed everyone else: “Now look around. Now people are gonna look at you, and people that are singing along, they’re gonna look at you as leaders. Maybe the people who aren’t singing along have never felt loved… Give them a little pet. Nothing crazy!” This is one of the best things about witnessing Matt Nathanson live. Sure, he can sing his ass off, and he’s a great songwriter and a terrific performer. All those things are great, but when you throw in his perfect comedic timing, he’s unmatched. “This is a little song called ‘Car Crash.'” He said when he’d finished poking fun of those too self-conscious to sing along with him.
After a little cover of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” Nathanson stopped again to talk to the crowd. “Full disclosure: this is the first show of the tour where you’ve rocked me so hard that my shoe has come undone.” He went on to describe how it had come untied, how the crowd had worked their way up his leg, that it “tickles in all the special places” and that he liked it, but here’s the thing: like me, Matt is from California, and as such, he talks quickly. I type notes quickly on my iPhone, but I can’t always keep up. I promise, I do my best to get the gist of everything I witness, or else I’ll leave it out altogether. Anyway, someone tied his shoe for him, leaving the crowd to witness another of the best things about Nathanson live. “Did someone just yell ‘take it off?!'” He asked incredulously, before a giggle escaped him. Maybe it’s me, but there’s something that’s incredibly endearing about a grown man who’s not afraid to giggle once in a while, and while this may have been the first one I noted that night, it certainly wasn’t the last.
“This next song is a… This is sort of a ‘be with your special one in the dark’ kinda song,” he explained, pointing out that it was “very dark” and that he “can’t tell if there are young ones out there… We’re just gonna keep it PG.” When the crowd answered with a chorus of “boo!”s, Nathanson said, “just kidding! We’re gonna corrupt their young minds!” Spotting a little boy near the front, he asked, “how old are you?” The kid was eleven. “Welcome to manhood, son,” Nathanson joked. “Mazel tov! This is a song about two people coming together… two people coming together,” Nathanson introduced, stopping momentarily to giggle again. “I feel dirty!” When he’d regained his composure, he played “Still.”
“So, this is my female empowerment song. Are you ready for this, ladies?” As was to be expected, the women in the audience roared back their “woo”s at him. “This is a song about a woman who waits for no one.” The song, “Modern Love,” is the title track from one of his albums, and it’s cynical but catchy as hell. “Room at the End of the World” was next, into a bit of The Temptations’ “My Girl,” during which Nathanson exclaimed, “we should kumbaya this!” He went on to explain, “here’s what happens… when you only have one or two songs that are hits… you sing other people’s songs so the crowd can sing along. It’s way more fun than your shit!” Eventually, he brought it all back around to wrap up “Room at the End…” and then admitted he hadn’t “talked this much the whole tour, but I’m home! I feel like I can talk to you!”
“Some of you know this story. I made this last record Last of the Great Pretenders here,” Nathanson began. He went on to briefly tell the story of how he and the crew went to the same cafe every day, falling for the waitress, who he wrote the next song about. “Long story short, I might’ve talked about it in USA Today, I might’ve said the name of the place and what she looked like…” As a result, some overzealous fans evidently tracked her down, and by now, of course the girl knows all about the song and that it’s about her. “So it makes it a little uncomfortable for me to return to said cafe for food. ‘Would you like fries with that’ takes on a little more heft…” After a long-winded introduction, it was time for “Kinks Shirt.”
“We never get to play summer nights!” Nathanson exclaimed, adding that he’d “known Gavin for ten years” and that it was “awesome to be able to do this,” calling it “a lot like summer camp” before he asked the crowd to “give it up for Mary Lambert!” His next song was one of my favorites, “All We Are,” and I’d never heard him play it live. It was all that I wanted and more, utterly perfect for a warm night in the open air. “Mission Bells” came next, and I’d never paid the song much attention before, possibly because I found the lyric “I had a dream you died” off-putting somehow. That night, though, I got past it and heard the song for what it was, which is how I found myself adding it to my list of favorite Matt Nathanson favorites.
“You guys feel like singing?” He asked the crowd. “Alright.” With a pause to take off the t-shirt he was wearing (though he had a plain white one under it) and throw it down to his eleven-year-old friend, he said “in lieu of therapy money, I’d like to give him the shirt off my back” and then taught the crowd its part in the song. “So here’s how it goes, it’s a very simple song. All you do is sing ‘hee, hee, hoo,’ but you do it with such passion that it ignites the world… Did you guys see that Oscar winner American Wedding? This is the theme song from that.” The song, “Laid,” was great fun with the crowd singing along, obviously pleasing Nathanson. He did pause, though, to call out a “very handsome man” that wasn’t singing. “Grab hold of your situation down there and just sing it! Oh my gosh, hi there, young person! You look even younger than eleven. You’re twelve? You’re bummed about it now, but at fifty you’re gonna look thirty. They’re gonna be carding you… Awesome! I just talked about beer with a twelve-year-old.”
Whether because it was a regularly scheduled band break in the show, or because all the talk about IDs with minors caused them to run away, Nathanson suddenly found himself standing alone on the stage. “So this is another singalong, you ready? It’s just you and me, baby! What you do is just sing the word ‘sunshine.’ It’s a very long sun and a very short shine. Try it.” When the audience happily did as instructed, Nathanson was obviously floored with the results. “Oh my god, that sounds so rad! This is the point where the band takes their break, because they’re union. I tried to fight them, but they got all Norma Rae… Try this again, my angelic choir.” Once again, the crowd did as asked and Nathanson was enamored with the sound. “Whoa, this is so cool!” The song, eventually, was “Suspended,” and made me note how pretty and distinct Nathanson’s tone is. Like his touring partner, he has the kind of voice that is recognizable: even if you heard him sing a song you didn’t know, you could still tell that it was him. “Thanks for singin!'”
As the band returned, Nathanson instructed, “alright, hands up! Aaron Tap is gonna show you how the Aaron Tap Clap works.” After a quick lesson, Nathanson explained that the clap was for the verses, and that “during the chorus I want you to shake it like it’s mardi gras and your underpants are on fire!” All this led up to a great rendition of one of my most favorite songs, “Faster,” during which the crowd really did shake all they had, which delighted me as much as it must have pleased Mr. Nathanson. “You knew this was coming!” He cried, transitioning into a bit of George Michael’s “Faith,” which was all I could possibly have wanted it to be.
“Alright? Here’s the deal! In lieu of walking off the stage and waiting for you to clap us back on, we got a curfew tonight. We’re just gonna play straight through,” Nathanson explained before adding that the next song was brand new and wasn’t released on an album yet. Calling his genre “wet noodle, white singer-songwriter music,” he joked that he’d had a moment where he’d thought, what would Kanye do? and decided to release the song before the album. The song was, he said, “about how good it feels… How good music feels. How invincible you feel when you’re walkin’ around with your headphones on to your favorite song. This is a song called ‘Headphones.'” This is a great, catchy song, but there’s something sort of sad about it. It’s as if it’s written for someone who has only music to call friend, and while music is perhaps one of the best friends you can have, I want actual human relationships for people, too. (Am I asking too much, or waxing too philosophical? Maybe, but either way I digress.)
“You guys, thanks for comin!’ We’ve been talking about this for years, and we finally got it together and you guys came out and it’s beautiful. Give it up for Gavin, for Mary… Queen Mary!” After a joke about having had a “big plan with Gavin to do a big duet of ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease,” Nathanson promised that they hadn’t gotten it all worked out, “but when we do we’re comin’ back and we’re gonna just do Grease straight through… Maybe Grease 2!” And then finally, back to reality and to his dwindling set list. “This song is about two people being together and playing Scrabble with nothing but water from the tap and the love between them. Sing along if you know it, this is ‘Come on Get Higher,’ so here’s to Scrabble!” This is easily one of Nathanson’s best songs, and live it’s transformed into something even more ethereal, though I’m not sure he needs to try to “code” the subject matter for the kids in the audience. Sticking with his earlier shtick, he sang a bit of “You’re the One That I Want” and got the crowd to sing part of it with him before wrapping up his own song.
“Greek Theatre, I don’t believe it!” Nathanson gave thanks to Another Planet Entertainment, “and thanks to you guys for coming out. It’s great to be home! If I could do it every night, I’d just stand right here and whoever wants to come can come… But we gotta bring the rock to other people. I’m Matt Nathanson, thanks for coming tonight. Good shit!” And with that, there was nothing left to say.
Truth be told, that was my first bona fide, full-length Matt Nathanson show. I’ve been enjoying his music for several years now, but until that night, I’d only had opportunities to see him headline radio shows. Suffice it to say I was eager to see a real set, but to add Gavin DeGraw (who, for anyone who missed my gushing at the top, I adore) and goddess Mary Lambert (of whom I’m now a brand new fan, eagerly & impatiently awaiting a full-length album)? It didn’t matter that I was almost late to the show: I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!