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Phosphorescent lead First Ave on an indie-rock odyssey

Phosphorescent at First Avenue

Phosphorescent at First Avenue Tony Nelson

Listen to Phosphorescent long enough and you might just pack a bag and set off to see the world—or at least dream about it.

There is a searching quality to the songs of Matthew Houck, the singer/songwriter behind Phosphorescent. And on a snowy Minneapolis night that fittingly marked the start of meteorological winter, Houck and his six-piece band delivered a 100-minute set full of warmth and a restless spirit that took our minds off the chilly night outside.

Phosphorescent is touring behind their first new record in five years, the exquisite C'est La Vie. The name of the album was lit up in neon behind the band, evoking the retro charm of Sinatra's Vegas or Times Square in the '70s. And the material from the new record featured heavily in the 14-song, two-encore set, with the band performing six of the album's nine songs, and coming on stage to a seventh, the hymn-like opening track "Black Moon/Silver Waves."

Despite Houck admitting "I have no idea what day it is," Phosphorescent delivered a loose and lively performance befitting a Saturday night. Current single "New Birth in New England" got both the band and the crowd warmed up, before an impassioned, Rolling Thunder Revue-esque "Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)" fully ignited the set.

Within Phosphorescent's music is a theme of finding yourself during a journey, where the person you are in one place changes when you go elsewhere. Your true self becomes revealed when you are confronted with the unknown that awaits your arrival—it's the Odyssey for the indie rock set. Houck's songs travel from Los Angeles to New England, passing through all the desolate highways and byzantine canyons in between. And on C'est La Vie, Houck broadens his scope, examining the peculiarities of spending the Christmas season isolated in the heat of an Australian summer, or the jubilant personal freedom that comes when you reach the end of the road in Chile's Cape Horn.

Houck put down his guitar during "There From Here," pouring his heart into the song's lyrics of personal exploration while he tugged nervously on his baseball cap, self-consciously pulling it down over his eyes to shield himself from the spotlight. That started a brilliant run of four songs from the new record, including a lovely take on "My Beautiful Boy," slowed to a simmering saunter, and a scorching version of "Around the Horn," a clear highlight of the set, with the band locked in a pocket of sound and Houck rolling up his T shirt sleeves, committing to the groove.

Drenched in both renewal and regret, the celebratory "Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)" ended the main set, offering redemption to everyone who’s made mistakes in love, taking more than they gave before finding themselves alone.

Houck started the encore alone on electric guitar, with two songs that silenced a rowdy Saturday night audience. "C'est La Vie No. 2" was a glimpse into trying to make sense of your life while it changes in unimaginable ways. Then Houck introduced a tender version of "My Dove, My Lamb" by half-apologizing for the song's length. "This is an older song. It's kind of long, but not too long. It's got a lot of verses. I hope you can roll with it."

Those verses tripped up Houck, who stopped the song after a couple minutes, laughing to himself. "I'll level with you. We've been on tour for about 15 weeks, and there comes a time when the lights are hitting me in such a way where I just have no idea what the fuck I'm doing. It's not like I forgot the words or anything, I just totally fucking forgot where I was for a moment there." That admission only added to the beauty of the song, which gave First Ave a campfire singalong vibe.

The band rejoined Houck for "Song For Zula" and "Ride On/Right On," with Houck holding his guitar aloft in triumph, as if sacrificing his instrument to the feisty music gods.

People were starting to file out of the club when the band returned for a spontaneous second encore of "Joe Tex, These Taming Blues" and "Los Angeles." A wise, weathered travel guide for the evening, Matthew Houck helped us navigate our personal journeys before bringing us all back home.

Click here to see a photo slideshow of Phosphorescent at First Ave

Setlist
New Birth in New England
Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)
The Quotidian Beasts
There From Here
My Beautiful Boy
Around the Horn
Christmas Down Under
Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)

Encore
C'est La Vie No. 2
My Dove, My Lamb
Song For Zula
Ride On/Right On

Second Encore
Joe Tex, These Taming Blues
Los Angeles