30th November | Thekla
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
Matt Maltese is a name that has been popping up with consistent applause across many music sites. Since the inception of his debut album, Bad Contestant, the London-based songwriter has been likened to Leonard Cohen with crooning ballads of dark thoughts. Escaping the cold into Thekla, Brighton’s FUR opened the evening with their indie-psych sound. Their relaxed presence made for a welcoming set; material like the track ‘Angel Eyes’ created a 60s ambience.
As the floor steadily filled, a red, illuminated heart sat at the back of the stage, foreshadowing the arrival of a musician that has captured the devastation of teenage love with a classic feel. His band set up under the spotlights, then Maltese perched at his keyboard in front of the intimate crowd as he blissfully began with ‘Like A Fish’.
Though he is merely twenty-one, what became immediately apparent was how Maltese’s talents are timeless. From the up-tempo harmonies of ‘Sweet 16’ into the luscious tones of ‘Bad Contestant’, the maturity in his approach to songwriting was evident in how his work could be pinned to various movements in history. With this created serenity, it allowed for you to completely devote your mind to the set and immerse yourself into Maltese’s world of ‘Brexit-pop’ and cloudy reflections of current times.
Amongst the pleasantness, he joked with the crowd, lulling them into thinking he’d sold three million copies of the album. Maltese overwhelmingly sang with an element of the tournament. A pain ever so relatable from the teenage girl fawning in the front row to the elder gentleman clutching a pint at the back.
Narrating the ever-potent message of unrequited love, ‘Even If It’s A Lie’ and ‘Less and Less’ were the pinnacle moments displaying why Maltese has garnered a cross-generational following. Whether he was jauntily flouncing across the stage to ‘Greatest Comedian’ or hazily harmonising with a distinctive hushed portrayal, his continuing strength in commanding ability soared through till the lasting moments.
Maltese performed with a simplistic delivery that was layered with complex dynamics, which ultimately filtered through the sombre tone. This layering came with a cleverness that often caught me off guard, in that he has the key ingredients of creating heartfelt ballads yet refrained from falling into the predictable. The lasting impression from this particular Friday night at Thekla is that Matt Maltese remains wildly underrated, whereas his magnetism deserves to be celebrated on wider stages.
See the official teleprompter video to ‘Like A Fish’ here: