Photo Credit: Brendan Walter
Written By: Ashley Friedman
Buffalo’s Asbury Hall welcomed singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson with opener Stephen Kellogg this evening for an unforgetable show.
The Boston Accent Winter Tour 2023 allowed both artists to be back on the road again after knowing each other for over twenty years.
At the show, crowdgoers are adorned in their Winter Tour 2023 gear and “music is better than everything t-shirts.” A few people are sporting pre-show tags, giving them access to a question and answer session with Nathanson and a brief private performance of some of their favorites like “Church Clothes” or “Birthday Girl.”
One of those pre-show fans, Kris Clark, said before the show, “Matt is a very dynamic storyteller, [I’m excited] because he is going to play one of the songs I requested during the pre-show hangout.”
Sitting next to her is another superfan, Jessica Wilson. The two go on to tell me that they met at the Rochester, NY, concert four years ago to the day and have remained friends ever since.
“I actually saw him last night in Toronto too. I’m looking forward to the hilarious banter back and forth. It’s like a stand-up comedy show,” says Wilson.
Ten minutes before starting time and guitars are loaded up on stage. From the looks of it, there are around seven. The stage crew and crowd are preparing for the opening act, Stephen Kellogg.
You might recognize Kellogg from the band Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, but in 2012, the singer-songwriter started to pursue a solo career.
Soon, the Connecticut native enters the stage and heads into the friendship anthem, “Milwaukee.” After finishing the song, Kellogg sets down one guitar, only to pick up another. “It’s wonderful to see you,” he says, “it’s been a few years.” Kellogg then talks about the pandemic and the indefinite excuse many of us had that we couldn’t attend events because we were really locking down. He then talks about coaching his daughter’s sports team, which he knew nothing about, but jokes that he was simply “dedicating his time” for his kid.
The next song he introduces as the “ACDC for middle-aged people who like Americana music” and heads into “High Highs and Low Lows.” The mother and daughter sitting behind me are singing along to the song. The singer-songwriter thanks the crowd for the “mini sing-along” and how much he doesn’t like to be told to sing along.
“I’m going to do one other that’s a sing-along and I’m probably going to press you for that,” he jokes and then tells us his next song that he will do is “most likely a mistake.”
“We were rolling off the bus today and I had my pajama pants on, feeling very middle-aged” says Kellogg and when I entered Asbury Hall, I ran into a young man who told me to play my song from 1997.”
Kellogg then asks the crowd, “”Do you smoke pot? I don’t, but I did when I wrote this song.” The piece is from a memory when his stepfather was sick and struggling and how Kellogg saw firsthand how much medicinal marijuana helped his stepdad.
The song he was referring to was “Anthem Of Our Discovery.”
“Today, when we pulled in, there was a horrible fire, a 37-year-old firefighter had lost his life… when my stepdad passed away, I [wrote] a song that’s a toast for the people I love when they leave. I thought we could [cut] the lights and have a moment for these folks.”
The lights turn off and you see Kellogg’s silhouette on stage as he gracefully goes into “Right There With You.” The crowd is quiet and the silence is respectful. Kellogg finishes the song and the lights are turned up only to reveal dozens of teary-eyed people hit by emotion. Kellogg himself is wiping away his tears.
“I would [like to] do one that’s emotionally uphill now. I got a new album [out], this is the first song I’ll play off it,” says Kellogg. The singer goes into “Ride The Rails” from the album, Keep It Up, Kid. The music is about loving his kids unconditionally through whatever life may bring them.
“This next song is for all the people that are hard to love. I wrote it in a very high key. I’m going to sing as hard and as high as I can. This is a song for the reverb,” Kellogg says as he points to the sound team before diving into “To The Ones Who Need It Most.”
He finishes the piece, thanks the folks at Asbury Hall, and then does a shameless plug for his book Objects in the Mirror: Thoughts on a Perfect Life from an Imperfect Person and jokes that every time he brings up the fact that he has a book and promotes it the audience’s reaction is priceless.
“If you go back, take the time, I’ll do a sign. You’ve been the best audience. I love you.”
Kellogg then puts a harmonica around his neck and plays the last song of his set, “Last Man Standing.” Everyone in the audience starts clapping and singing along.
There is a brief fifteen-minute intermission before the main act, Matt Nathanson, enters the stage energetically and it’s no surprise that he goes into the title track of his latest album Boston Accent. His bandmate, Aaron Tap, is vibing with the song as he sings backup vocals and occasionally hits the tambourine.
After just releasing Boston Accent in July of 2022, Nathanson released its companion piece, The Lexington EP, just last month. Nathanson said in a tweet, ‘”named after the Massachusetts town I grew up in, The Lexington EP is the last part of a musical conversation we started back in august with Boston Accent… one final statement before moving on.”‘
Nathanson finishes the song before proudly saying, “This is the first time I successfully walked out on stage and sang a song. Look how fucking excited Otto is,” he says. “Otto,” known as Erick (Otto) Celeiro, has been Nathanson’s production manager for almost ten years. “[I got a] text from Otto that said tonight would be a good night to play,” Nathanson says laughing.
He then heads into “Car Crash” from his 2007 Some Mad Hope album and jams out with his guitar before the keyboardist. After finishing the song, he picks up his cup on stage, “I bet it’s like guns and roses circa 97,” he says as if it was someone in the audience is saying it. “It’s fucking throat coat,” he says as he takes a sip.
Towards the end of February, Nathanson tweeted to someone about the possibility of getting an ENT [ears, nose, throat] appointment. After an overwhelming response of people sending in referrals, Nathanson followed up with, ‘”… [I’m] getting in at Mass eye & ear tomorrow, should work w/out a hitch. [I] just need to check in on my slightly wounded cords after ten days of hacking.”‘
Still interacting with the crowd, Nathanson jokes about how “wild” his band is. “Full disclosure we have UNO Flip on the bus. On the last tour, we got one of those self-card shuffling machines, so shit gets crazy,” he says chuckling. He points out someone in the crowd and tells them not to judge the idea of having UNO Flip.
“Heartbreak World” is next up on the setlist. “Let’s all pack up and move this year / Slips the liars and disappear.” The song appears on his Some Mad Hope album and talks about leaving tough times behind, despite the heartbreak of breaking away and following a different path.
Nathanson finishes up the song only to introduce his next piece as the “one where we fell in love with a girl at a deli around the corner of a studio [we used to go to].” In a USA Today interview, Nathanson said, ‘”He and his producers ate there almost every day while recording his new album, Last of the Great Pretenders.”‘ He comments, “There was this powerful tattooed human. She used to wear a Van Halen t-shirt.”
Nathanson says he remembers telling the band not to tell her they wrote a song about her. Right after recording, the crew ate at the restaurant like usual. Mike Viola, one of Nathanson’s producers, immediately told the girl, “we wrote a song about you” and Nathanson was, to say the least, stunned.
He then said after years of not going to the deli for a while, he decided to one day. Immediately he saw the girl and her only repsonse with a straight face was, ‘”People like you. A lot of people have come in to talk to me.”‘ He then goes on to play the song “Kinks Shirt.”
We steadily move into more of Nathanson’s catalog, like “German Cars,” and then he says, “We’re going to play one more new one, then we’re going to do all the Night Ranger catalogs,” and he goes on to play “Future’s Here.”
Soon, Nathanson graces us with his fourth track, “Room @ the End of the World,” from his seventh studio album, Modern Love, then subtly cuts to:
“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody / I wanna feel the heat with somebody / Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody / With somebody who loves me…”
Nathanson flawlessly follows up with, “Can we sing you a new song? This next song is one about Whitney Houston. It’s called “Whitney Houston’s National Anthem.””
After the song finishes, Nathanson starts the conversation again with, “my daughter is twelve and runs everything,” and goes into a funny story about an interaction between him and his daughter regarding being welcomed into womanhood.
“Bottom of the Sea” is the next song, which you might recognizr from the 2011 album Modern Love.
He follows the piece with, “Twenty years ago to this year, everyone was so focused on “In Da Club” and Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.” Flash forward and suddenly Nathanson is in the time when he was on the I’m Not Dead Tour with Pink and goes into this hilarious story about how obsessed he was with cleaning up this patch of hair on his back before heading on tour.
The dialogue between each song made the performance. It brought to life just how personable Nathanson is.
Soon to follow is “Bent,” an unapologetic anthem for those that have or would have bent over backwards for someone that wasn’t ever willing to do the same.
“Season ticket on a one-way ride,” Nathanson interrupts the song, and the crowd begins to sing along; it’s AC/DC’s ultra classic “Highway To Hell.”
We head into the song “Suspended” and the crowd is tagged by Nathanson to sing back the verse with “Sunshine.” The song is perfect for those in a relationship where the other person sees you in a way that you never saw yourself and it makes you feel better about who you are.
After Nathanson gets the crowd excited, he plays his Billboard Hot 100 hit back in 2011, “Faster.” The people next to me get up and start dancing and soon, a third of the crowd follows.
If Nathanson does one thing during his show, it’s that he goes from his own songs to some downright classics. That said, we soon head into Prince’s “Kiss” before diving into “Used To Be.”
On stage are more guitars than you can count. Out of all of them, the white acoustic guitar beams from center stage. He finally picks it up for the next song and says, “This is a new song and it’s a love song because I miss my queen. Soon, he sings:
“midnight in chinatown / bars kicking people out / stumbling into an empty street / all of our friends complain.”
Nathanson cuts in before playing his next song, “I used to dream about this” and dives into one of his top hits ever, “Come On Get Higher,” from his album Some Mad Hope and then we suddenly hear the lyrics, “You’re the one that I want (you are the one I want) / Ooh-ooh-ooh, honey,” the classic from Grease ft. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
For his last song, “Blush,” Nathanson says, “I wrote this song as like a celebration. This song is about being desperate [in a relationship] that you lose yourself,” and continues to say that it’s essential to love yourself before you love someone else and not to lose yourself when you do find someone. “All life is a collection of experiences and it’s important to be present,” says Nathanson.
In a traditional and classy was, he ends the night with, “Buffalo, no shit, this was a perfect night.”
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