Review + Photos | Matt Costa @ Wonder Ballroom (PDX)


Photos by Carrie Johnston

[M]att Costa is the musical equivalent of a contemporary Hollywood romantic comedy. He makes good kids smile and bad kids cringe. Now, it’s perfectly natural for couples to get cuddly, even make-out-y at a concert, but the critical mass of either (attempted) ballroom dancing, making out, cuddling, and looking longingly into one another’s eyes was enough to make Hugh Grant throw up in his mouth a little. Costa even employed an Anna Karenina lookalike (his wife?) to do little more than play tambourine, making the boys swoon and the girls wish they’d die and come back as a French new wave starlet. Costa is, accompanied or not, a fantastic performer, and just as during any decent “rom-com,” you feel like an asshole if you don’t cry at least once.

Sailing along the West Coast on tour shortly after the release of his fourth full-length album, Costa was jovial and fresh-faced. He began the set on keyboards and vocals, making an immediate connection with the audience through a succession of flirty smiles and twinkle-eyed glances. He might as well have been George Harrison singing pretty love songs to a thousand crying young women. His charm is evident in his writing as well. He lifts spirits through storytelling – albeit, not without requisite plot twists. He delivers his tug-o-war messages with upbeat songs like “Good Times,” which is really about bad times. “Babe we’re running out of money, we’re running out of dough…I’m turning back to the man I once was…those good times are coming to an end.” For his encore, he sang “Silver Sea,” a mystical (vaguely-Irish folk, vaguely-orchestral) ballad richly laced with mandolins that places the listener in an Odyssey-like storybook world: “Build, build a ship for two…in the waves she’ll get tossed…in a wooden ship for two, silver sea we were lost…lost…lost” “Clipped Wings” is equally transporting as he longs lightheartedly for a young love smudged by time.

Thankfully for this recent album Costa decided to incorporate the classic UK folk aesthetic — the delicate British style of Donovan, Belle and Sebastian, or The Clientele—instead of the plain, contemporary American radio-folk aesthetic like others of his genre. Sophisticated arrangements, including use of the pedal steel guitar, piano, trumpet, violin, and double-bass, played a prominent role in this album’s aesthetic. And on stage, the spectrum of instruments made the collaboration all the more impressive to watch. Costa revealed his versatility by occasionally returning to some older, simpler arrangements, such as during “Behind the Moon” when he transitioned into a hand-clappy, foot-stompy breakdown while harmonizing with his band-mates and descending into the crowd for a sing-a-long.

The show was both an accurate representation of his latest self-titled album, and a well-balanced sampling of his prior work. So, bad kids, skeptics, and rom-com scoffers — be wise not to judge this man by association (yes, he toured with Oasis and Jack Johnson…barf), for it is true that Sir Matt Costa is indeed a skilled and adventurous sailor of musical style.