The first time I saw Matthew Dear on the Hare & Hounds stage, I wasn’t quite sure that it was him. I’d never seen him in a hoodie. As it turned out, he was just setting up. When he came back with his band, he was in his usual suited attire, hair slicked back a little, already owning us with his stage presence.
The set favoured his fifth album, this year’s critically acclaimed Beams. Matthew was a natural performer on-stage, shimmying his way through songs, aided by a maraca, a tambourine or one of the many white roses that were adorning the stage. Just like Beauty and the Beast, we were reminded of the roses’ decay throughout the set. Petals were pulled apart and thrown like confetti onto our heads. Near the end of the set, Matthew clutched four roses in his hands. A woman approached the stage by way of a drunken dancer and shouted, “Throw them!” Matthew gave her a look that said, “Seriously?”, and then addressed the audience: “I want to give you these, but they’re very sharp.” In the end, he leaned down and handed the woman the flowers. She twirled them round, jubilant, before pricking her fingers on the thorns.
Other than introducing the band at the end of the set, this was the most Mr Dear had said to us all night. He not only thanked us repetitively, but also thanked those who had attended his last gig in Birmingham. “Thanks for that — it’s a good memory,” he smiled. Clearly preferring to focus on the music, he delivered a set that was jam-packed and relentless. It was a surprise to hear ‘You Put a Smell on Me’ and ‘Monkey’, as well as ‘Don & Sherri’ from 2007’s Asa Breed, the final track of the night.
Matthew Dear’s sound ranges from dark, dirty synth-pop to disco, funk-infused beats. It’s a sound that just has to be heard instead of described; after all, this is a man who records under no less than four aliases. Although the work under his own name is his most successful, it’s by no means entirely inviting. “This is the darkest song I’ve written,” said Matthew, as a prelude to “Shake Me”, yet another surprise track. The penultimate song on Beams, its opening line, “I laughed when they hit you with their sticks / you cried” sounded even more sinister live. By this point, the bass was pulsating in my throat and Matthew’s body became more rigid and defined, his svelte figure perfectly accentuating each beat.
On that song, he seemed cold and calculating, and yet on others, he danced around the stage in a joyful frenzy. The visual changes and shifts in his character made him fascinating to watch. As he and his band left the stage, roses and petals were scattered around, with people taking them home as mementos. It’s hard to sum him up, but one word that probably does it best is “performer”.
He looked gorgeous, sounded great, and was truly exciting to see live.