Matthew Sweet's power-pop brilliance leaves a sold-out Turf wanting even more

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Matthew Sweet at the Skyline Music Festival at Target Field in 2013. Photo credit: Kyndell Harkness/Star Tribune.

Madness! It was sheer madness cramming this much quality power pop into an unassuming rock bar on University Avenue in St. Paul in one night.

Yet, there they were, cult favorite Tommy Keene and Television-meets-the-Byrds guitar technician Matthew Sweet, sharing the same Turf Club stage. It was a glorious racket.

Keene opened the show in a casual, solo acoustic manner. His 12-string rang out all the way to the Green Line, shimmering the summer evening away. Pushing 60 years old, he looks, sounds, and plays like someone half his age, and newer songs like “Laugh in the Dark” stood up to classics like 1984’s “Back to Zero Now.”

Electrifying the second half of his set, Keene wrestled wicked rhythms and pop fills out of a battle-worn Fender Telecaster, lending “Deep Six Saturday” punch and bite beyond the studio version on Behind the Parade.

The man simply wants to rock. Keene’s head snaps and his hopping were the unavoidable result of rock and roll flowing in his veins longer than some of us have been alive. “Places That Are Gone” scorched like later-years Hüsker Dü in case you had any doubt. Tommy Keene will probably be doing this when he's 90.

Matthew Sweet and his band opened their set with a rocked-up version of Altered Beast’s insanely catchy “Time Capsule.” He followed this with new ones like this summer’s “Pretty Please” and 2008’s “Byrdgirl” before telling a wonderfully strange story about forging bronze cats for this tour. I cannot verify whether anyone bought a bronze cat (available at the merch table) but everyone bought the creepy stalker tale “Winona,” from 1991’s Girlfriend.

Sweet has been baring his soul since the early '90s with “Divine Intervention,” and last night’s version didn’t skimp on sneaky tricks, courtesy of his lead guitarist. Altered Beast’s “Someone to Pull the Trigger” was darkly beautiful as always, but Girlfriend’s “You Don’t Love Me” even topped that. Confessional in style, the song had enough open space in it to not wear the listener out the until ghostly extended jam at the end.

Most in attendance wouldn’t have left without hearing the title track from Girlfriend, which certainly didn’t disappoint. (Quick quiz: did you know the song was originally called “Good Friend”? Everyone thought Sweet was singing “girlfriend,” and the rest is history.) The version last night shook the Turf’s floor as the crowd hopped along.

Sweet introduced the band, thanked everyone, and got Tommy Keene back on stage for a soaring version of “I’ve Been Waiting.” Most of his set was a noisy affair (no complaints here), but it was nice when the pop really shined through the din, as with this song. Keene offered spot-on backing vocals and a limited variety of dance moves, though it would have been nice to also hear him play guitar with Sweet.

In 1995 “Sick of Myself” (off 100% Fun) was a welcome blast of rock and roll that found a home on MTV and alt-rock radio. The song, as blasted from the Turf’s stage, completely fulfilled all of its chugging, riffing glory. The band kept the “false endings” from the studio version of intact, and actually added a couple more.

Then things got a little weird. Sweet started randomly teasing the “dinosaur noises” that open the album Altered Beast, which seemed to take the rest of the band by surprise. The lead guitarist had already set his guitar down; he picked it back up to join in the fun.

But they didn’t play “Dinosaur Act.” Or “Ugly Truth.” Or “Devil with the Green Eyes.” Sweet and his band jammed a while, teased more of the noises, and, with a flick of a guitar pick to the crowd, they were out of there.

All that teasing, and no expected encore, made for an odd finale. But far from unsatisfying, it simply left the crowd wanting more. And that's just good marketing.

Set List
Time Capsule
Byrdgirl
Pretty Please
Winona
Divine Intervention
She Walks the Night
Someone to Pull the Trigger
Music for Love
We’re the Same
You Don’t Love Me
Trick
Girlfriend
I’ve Been Waiting
Sick of Myself
The Searcher


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