Photos by: Danielle Scruggs, Danielle Scruggs Photography
Matt and Kim, Brooklyn’s twin prime ministers of awesome, visited the Black Cat on Wednesday night with Secretary of Sensual Aural Panic Amanda Blank in tow for an evening that agreed with the musical sensibilities of everyone in attendance, and portended that both acts have the talent and confidence now to ascend further than their indie pop and dance status would allow. With Matt and Kim coming into this show having won the MTV Video Music Award for Breakthrough Artist for “Lessons Learned,” they made it readily apparent in their hour long set that they are a whole lot more than proof that the pop punk couple that runs together naked in Times Square stays together. They’re easily the brightest light for the mainstream infiltration of fidgety and quirky yet forward thinking indie pop.
This evening started with DJ’s Devlin and Darko playing Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Fugazi. That should’ve told us that our collective asses were going to be blown, gyrating wildly, clear off our bodies.
Opener Amanda Blank, much like Ronnie Ronette, Donna Summer or Aaliyah is a producer’s dream as a phenomenal canvas to paint a palette beats and rhythms upon. While not to say that she’s anywhere as talented yet, if the gay and hipster dance culture needed a diva that isn’t as weird yet as wearing facial bird nests, and appearing as though she’s your cool ass, ridiculous best friend, Amanda Blank is more than woman for the job. This is not to say that this is a job she quickly accepted in the best of manners. In the last year, I’ve witnessed Amanda Blank perform four times, with this Black Cat performance being her latest. And from a woman appearing small, yet entertaining in front of an enormous crowd of 1,500 at an outdoor bar in Austin, Texas at SXSW, the growth in performance maturity to the woman totally confident in amazing new material on Wednesday is a 180 degree improvement.
In her 45 minute opening set, Blank, seconded as always more than capably by Philly by way of DMV DJ sensations Devlin and Darko, writhed, preened and vogued her way more than capably through tracks on her debut “I Love You.” Blank, easily the urban hipster queen, was dressed in a manner I can only call vampire red riding hood sexpot, with a cloak covering a tight, barely there lycra minidress. Diplo, Switch and XXXChange’s productions while expected, do well in the hands of Blank, who neither sings nor raps in a manner consistent with the tops of either game, but damn sure knows how to take phenomenal productions and create a ton of eye catching, body grinding entertainment. The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s leaning “Make It Take It,” the vamped up Romeo Void covering debut single “I Might Like You Better,” and the LL Cool J “I Need Love” covering set closer “I Love You” all went over well, and induced a party.
Headliners Matt and Kim, while missing a lot of things (guitars!) that would make it easier to do so, are well poised to be the top band of this generation. The legit Brooklynite couple fill a room with enough irrepressible glee to power all five boroughs of New York. Calling their music “punk” would be a misnomer, as the checks they’ve cashed from Bacardi and Converse definitely take the ephemeral definition out of the equation. But it leaves the literal sounds, as well as a lot of other concepts, as this is a band that, given the lack of instrumentation, has turned this into a positive, being able to literally cover anything between a keyboard and drums. In fact, the Matt and Kim live experience goes ballistic when the couple does covers of Sugar Hill Gang’s “Apache,” Ol Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop,” or Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2.” Yes, it’s true if you look at the packaging with a jaded eye for the first time, you’re thinking, “why do people love these sweaty fucking hipsters?” It’s because there’s more than that. In watching them power through a set of underground hits from their indie debut to the more hook laden and pop friendly 2009 top album Grand, you get a sense that, as Matt says, “the stage is his home.” I’d argue that both members of the group view the music as catharsis, as these two play music that doesn’t make you dance because the melodies are fantastically catchy, it’s because they’re simple, fun, and they go hard. In the sparseness of their music, you find the ability to let yourself go, and get locked into the groove with the band. There’s not so much there that you have to be the best dancer, or the best singer, or the smartest music critic that ever lived. There’s a really melodic keyboard and a drummer who sounds like if you don’t dance, she’s gonna punch you in the face with snares and kicks and hi hats, all the while smiling massively. Their music is easy, and in a world where people fight to make the simple ridiculously hard, having Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino around is a breath of fresh air for sure.
The hits like “Lessons Learned” and the blend of street musician kick drum pickup and simplistic and maniacally catchy melody that is “Daylight” have been discussed ad nauseum, but its what fleshes out their set that makes them the mainstream accessible pop stars they’re becoming. Tracks like the delightful, baseball themed tale of the human condition “Lightspeed,” to the teenybopper leaning love tale “Yeah Yeah,” it’s clear that it was never a question of if, but an expectation of when they’d be ready for the brightest lights. Matt and Kim make great music. It’s not pop, it’s not punk, it’s certainly commercial, and definitely amazing.
Music, when in the hands of people like Matt and Kim and Amanda Blank, is certainly a much happier place, and that makes me terribly glad.