Review: Matthew Mole: Beautiful Geek

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Matt MoleMatthew Mole, The Home We Built was a tiny bit of a misnomer for last night’s gig at the Barnyard in Rivonia, as the first two thirds of the show were filled by two other acts. Obviously it’s great to showcase and promote South African talent, but it was apparent that this was perhaps not quite what the audience had been expecting.

Jo’burg band Bye Benoco opened the show. They are an alternative group with echoes of 90’s Indie music, a bit of country, a dash of the psychedelic and a whole host of other musical influences woven into their work. The vibe fluctuated from otherworldly in On the Line to trippy in Cosmic Ocean.

Lead songstress Lenny has an unusual edgy quality to her voice. Unfortunately, at times the instrumentals drowned out some of the vocals. Perhaps this was a technical issue or perhaps the venue wasn’t intimate enough to do their music justice. There was also an apparent mismatch between the musical tastes of the audience and the band.

Next up was a set by Nakhane Touré. Some of the music was experimental with him singing different notes, then overlaying them on a loop. However, once the guitar and vocals were added into the mix it all sounded a bit busy, which made it difficult to hear and appreciate his guitar skills and voice properly. However, when he pared back the busyness for his final song, My Johnathan, and varied the range of his voice more, the audience visibly warmed to him. Touré is clearly talented, but despite a charming smile he is perhaps lacking in confidence in front of a live audience. In this case the old adage “Less is more” would have worked in his favour.

Matthew Mole’s performance was in an entirely different league. As soon as he opened with Take Yours, I’ll Take Mine, the crowd woke up, the smart phones came out and the ladies sighed (swiftly followed by a groan of dismay when he dedicated the following song to his girlfriend).

Mole’s electronic folk style is distinctive and his music translates very well to live performance with clear and heartfelt lyrics. Unlike so many singers who choose to sing in an American accent, Mole sounds very proudly South African with every vowel he sings. Very refreshing.

Despite its quirky uniqueness Mole’s music somehow slots well into the mainstream. Part of his charm is how everything sounds so effortless and easy, even though he’s plucking guitar strings, playing the drums and singing beautifully.

He looks bigger in real life than on YouTube and has clearly been working out. There was a comment about his “big guns” from the back. He giggled and put it down to a spot of recent Muay Thai training in Thailand.

His music IS really good, but what really pulls his live performance together is his charismatic stage presence and his interaction with the fans. He likes to chat and he punctuates his music with little anecdotes.

Sweet and earnest, The Wedding Song was clearly another crowd pleaser. Then he performed a slightly tinkered-with version of You and Your Crown. “It sounds a bit cheesy…… but I like cheesy”, he shrugged with his infectious grin. An interesting choice of word. Matthew Mole is sort of cheesy, evoking a modern day George Formby with his ukulele and bow tie, but the fact he knows he’s a bit cheesy and embraces it makes him all the more likeable.

Matthew Mole is gathering quite a following – primarily female – and is certainly a name to watch. Young and talented, he is the beautiful geek of electronic folk with songs that would, I suspect, lend themselves very well to a Hollywood movie sound track. It will be interesting to see when and how he handles the oh-so-tricky second album that is such a stumbling block for so many emerging artists.

Not to make a mountain out of Matthew Mole, but do take the opportunity to watch him while he’s still playing small gigs to local crowds. This is a star on the rise.

 

Nicola Beach

Matthew Mole performs at the Willowbridge Barnyard Theatre in Cape Town on 25 May 2014, supported by Chantal Van T.  

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