Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, California, April 13, 2018
Portland-based singer/songwriter Matt Alber incorporates all the best of early legends like Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce and Jackson Brown with his insightful, emotionally raw storytelling. Additionally, Alber infuses his keen gay sensibilities into his material, putting him in a rare musical space that includes Rufus Wainwright, Spencer Day and Holcombe Waller. For the first of two shows at Feinstein’s, Alber captivated his audience with his astute observations and sweetly romantic vignettes.
“Handsome Man”, from 2014’s Wind Sand Stars CD, opened the show with a full and powerful display of Alber’s style; plaintive, heart-on-his-sleeve vocals overlaid on gorgeous melodies with sweeping orchestral overtones. Guest cellist Matt Linaman lends a melancholy tinge to the story of a shy man’s attempt to converse to ‘the handsome man’ through a song. The poetry continued with his acoustic version of “Monarch”, with its metaphor of hundreds of multicolored butterfly brothers waiting for their journey of discovery to begin.
Patrick McCaffrey joined Matt on the xylophone, sometimes using bass bows on the bars to create ethereal whale like tones that perfectly enhance Alber’s moody landscapes. “Fieldtrip Buddy” is a lovely remembrance of every gay boy’s first crush; the moment when you first hold another boys hand, even if its just a requirement of the school’s buddy system. Its not often you hear acoustic Whitney Houston, but Alber paid homage to his fave with “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and its seemed totally natural and right.
A fan of the Velvet Fog, Alber’s latest effort is a re-creation of jazz legend Mel Torme’s 1960 LP Swingin’ on the Moon. He’ll return to tour with a big band to perform that music, but instead performed an a cappella version of Irving Berlin’s timeless classic “(I’ll Be Loving You) Always”, employing an arrangement by the late singer Kenny Rankin. The song clearly shows a master musician comfortable in any genre. His most famous composition “End of the World”, a heartbreaking relationship breakup song features his trademark incisive lyrics and use of well-crafted orchestrations. When he sings “Don’t you want to fall, don’t you want to fly, don’t you want to be dangled over the edge of this aching romance”, anyone who’s ever fallen out of love can feel the rawness of his broken heart.
Alber closed the show with his hopeful “Tightrope”, wondering if the object of his affection will join him out on the tightrope that is romance. Alber is revered among the LGBT community for good reason; he’s a touchstone to their collective experiences that often go unspoken or recorded. That he can articulate shared emotions so clearly elevates him from niche gay musician to universal prophet.