A few years ago, I asked to review Gavin Degraw at Wolf Trap. I had loved his music for years, and was anxiously awaiting his turn for the stage when his co-headliner, a man named Matt Nathanson – who I never really heard of – took the stage. We were barely ten minutes into his set when I went into my Amazon app and bought all of his albums, having been completely blown away by this man’s music and stage presence. Hello, new obsession!
I’ve seen Matt Nathanson perform a number of times since that show, and I can say with all the enthusiasm that I have that there is nothing out there much better than a live Matt Nathanson performance. So naturally, when I saw that he was coming to Wolf Trap with Phillip Phillips and A Great Big World, I made it my mission to review this show (my poor exhausted editor could probably provide you with a whole host of emails from me about this event, dating months back when it was first announced.)
Of course, I wasn’t disappointed.
The night began with opening act A Great Big World, an indie/pop rock duo made up of Ian Axel and Chad King. Their energy and verve revved up the audience nicely, with songs such as “This Is the New Year,” which was memorably performed by the cast of the popular television show Glee. They also played a song called “Everyone Is Gay,” that they wrote specifically for EveryoneIsGay.com, a nurturing and uplifting online community. Says Axel, “We wanted to speak to the kids who are bullied for being who they are, and to write a song we wish we could’ve had growing up. Because in the end, we’re all human, no matter who you love.” They also played their popular songs “Hold Each Other” and the sentimental, soulful “Say Something.” After ending with a peppy Beatles cover (“Got to Get You Into My Life”), they made room for Matt Nathanson.
Now, I hate to say this, but it needs to be said; other artists touring with Matt Nathanson should be pitied a bit, because he steals the evening away from everyone else, every time. Full of charisma and charm, he engages with his audience more than any other artist I’ve seen, engaging in playful banter with the people around him between his songs. Matt started with his upbeat hit “Gold In the Summertime,” jaunting his way across the stage with his signature dance moves (I’m not kidding here– someone even made a popular Twitter page dedicated to his dancing called “Matt’s Hips.”)
Between eight studio records and two live albums, he has no shortage of material to choose from, and for this show, he focused mainly on his more cheerful songs, encouraging the audience to sing and clap along to the beat whenever possible, (pleads Nathanson, “If you insist on staying seated, at least shift from butt-cheek to butt-cheek.”) We sang along with him in an outstanding cover of “Laid,” and laughed as he cleverly censored some lyrics in his sensual number “Run” after spotting young faces in the crowd. Deciding the stage was too small for him, Matt then took off into the audience during his hit “Headphones,” weaving his way through the excited crowd and greeting everyone around him.
After many quippy anecdotes and some playful teasing of the audience (hint: don’t be on your phone during a Matt Nathanson set unless you want to be mercilessly trolled) and a few more great songs, including his self-proclaimed favorite “Bill Murray” and the popular “Modern Love,” Nathanson invited A Great Big World back onstage along with Phillip Phillips so that they could pay tribute to Prince with a rendition of “Raspberry Beret.” The collective energy was electric and contagious. He ended the evening with his biggest hit, “Come on Get Higher,” or as he puts it, “the only song of mine you’ll probably actually recognize.”
Following Matt Nathanson is an incredibly tall order, but Phillip Phillips did it the right way, with a more relaxed presence that was his very own, and brought an entirely different tone to the evening. After winning season 11 of American Idol, Phillips cranked out hits such as “Lead On” and “Raging Fire.”In both voice and stage personality, he seemed much more mature than his age, and I was a surprised to realize that this man is only 25 years old.
The sound quality of the music was impeccable, as I have come to expect and consistently receive at Wolf Trap. His song “Don’t Tell Me” was full of jazzy influences, and had couples swaying along in the breezy lawn. “Gone, Gone, Gone” was another well-received hit, but the audience favorite was the popular song “Home,” which had been the number that everyone was obviously waiting for. Phillips is now working on his third studio album, and many of us out there are eagerly awaiting its arrival.
While Nathanson won over the audience with his big personality and charm, Phillips kept his audience interaction to a minimum, instead choosing to wind down the evening with long instrumental solos and deep, gravelly vocals. Nathanson amped up the party, and Phillips soothed it back down with a relaxing, content vibe. It was exactly the way an evening of live music should be.
Running Time: Approximately three and a half hours, including set changes.
Matt Nathanson and Phillip Phillips performed on Wednesday, August 10, 2016 at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts – 1635 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. To see a list of upcoming events at Wolf Trap and to purchase tickets, go to their calendar of events. To view the remaining dates of Matt Nathanson and Phillip Phillip’s tour, click here.