25 Mar 2023

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Matt Joe Gow - Gig Review: Matt Joe Gow @ Wine Cellar, Auckland - 21/08/2022

22 Aug 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

So, it was off into central Auckland for my third consecutive gig, this time to Wine Cellar to see country musician Matt Joe Gow on the final date of his NZ tour, where every gig had sold out. Given how difficult the market is at present, which has been some vindication for Matt, and it was no surprise he was happy with how things had gone. This was my first time at this venue for a solo acoustic act, and it was strange to see it set up seated, very different indeed to what I usually experience here, and the space worked very well indeed in this manner.

There is nothing more honest than a solo musician with an acoustic instrument, as there is no place whatsoever to hide, but Matt was very much at home, and kicked off the evening with Come To Mama. He was playing quite forcefully here, with a hard strike on the acoustic, yet was already creating loads of presence and atmosphere. He has a wonderfully detailed and rich voice which is packed with emotion, and he can also add a rasp when he wishes. Given he normally performs with a full band he is also very much at home in this environment. This was followed by Flowers In Your Hair, a song which originally appeared on 7 Years as a male/female duet and is bouncy and full of energy while the use of harmonica gave this quite a different feel. The audience were really with him, hanging on every note, and when he played more upbeat numbers such as Steady Life there was a reaction so that even though everyone was seated there was definite movement. We were being treated to quite a few different styles with Matt switching to finger picking at times, but whatever he was doing he was always in full control. He is one of those musicians who falls deep inside the spell of his own music, often playing with his eyes closed as he generates a world of grace and majesty, taking us with him as he is transported away.

Matt has a new album coming out later this year, and he played a few tunes from it, including the latest single, 'Til My Whole Heart Bursts. I really enjoyed that release, and to hear it now performed live in this stripped back format showed what a very good song it is indeed. Matt laughingly joked that one of the benefits of playing music for a long time is that it is possible to write sequels to songs, and then he played Sweet Collapse which is a follow-on to Georgia Rose. Some of the songs were being performed in a very different manner to how he plays them with a band, although it did give him much more latitude with some of his timing, yet he was always relaxed and very much at home. He was incredibly engaged with the audience, and it felt more that he was playing some music for old friends as opposed to being in a venue, able to be right in your face or delicate and emotional. His use of harmonica was sparse, but when utilised he could really make it cry.

There was a lot of interaction with the audience, and near the end of the set he was asked by multiple people for different songs, but instead he decided to do a cover which he recorded a few years ago (when people had taste, apparently), and I was very surprised to hear him perform Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). That is not a song I would ever have thought could work in this format, and the first verse felt quite different indeed, but it definitely came alive on the chorus which just shows a great song can be arranged in very different ways indeed. He finished the main set with an emotional Break, Rattle and Roll which had been slowed right down. There was a huge amount of passion and expression in his voice, and this song really took us on a journey.

There is no backstage at Wine Cellar, and he would have had to walk through the audience and then waited outside for the encore, so by mutual assent it was agreed the set was finished, but when people cried out for more, he agreed to play one more song. This was Between Tonight and Tomorrow, which is the title of the new album, and fingerpicked and delicate was the perfect end to the night. That is the second time I have seen Matt play and yet again it was an absolute delight from beginning to end. I am so looking forward to the album.

Photo credit: Kev Rowland


About Matt Joe Gow

Matt Joe Gow grew up in the deep south of New Zealand, in a town with bad weather and great music; the birthplace of groups such as The Chills, The Clean and Straitjacket Fits. Surrounded by music, he was encouraged to pick up a guitar from a young age. After traveling the world, Matt moved to Melbourne, Australia, drawn by its culture and vibrant music scene. He formed a band, The Dead Leaves and in 2009 released his debut record The Messenger, produced by multi-Aria award-winner Nash Chambers, and featuring contributions from Jim Moginie of Midnight Oil, and iconic Australian country guitarist Bill Chambers.

As alternative country and Americana continued to grow in popularity, Matt steadily toured and supported acts such as Chris Isaak, The Jayhawks, Justin Townes Earle, James Reyne, Kasey Chambers, Marlon Williams, Jimmy Barnes, Mark Seymour and John Butler.

Whilst regularly making demos and working on other projects in the studio, it would be 2016 before the next Matt Joe Gow record, Seven Years, was released to critical acclaim. The record was self-produced by Matt and guitarist Andrew Pollock. After touring and playing numerous festivals in support of the record, and encouraged by its positive reception, Matt returned to the studio in 2018 to make the follow-up, Break, Rattle and Roll. An ambitious record with keys, horns, pedal steel and backing vocalists supplementing the core band, it was again released to wide acclaim and accolades including the Music Victoria Award for Best Country/Americana Album Of The Year. In addition to full band shows, Matt undertook a solo tour with Grant-Lee Phillips, with Phillips posting that [Break, Rattle and Roll's] "Bridge Over Concrete is on constant rotation in my head!".

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Matt Joe Gow


Between Tonight & Tomorrow
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Break, Rattle and Roll
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Seven Years
Year: 2016
Type: Album
The Messenger
Year: 2009
Type: Album

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