Matt Mays Live: From Burnside With Love (Virtual Concert)

Matt Mays - From Burnside With Love

My interest was piqued late last year when Dartmouth, NS singer-songwriter Matt Mays announced plans to release a new live album in early 2021, with an online concert stream of the very same performance being made available to coincide with the launch.  When the first teaser clip of the opening track, “Downtown,” was shared soon after, both the ‘style’ of this concert and the outstanding audio/visual elements told me that this was an event not to be missed.  This past Saturday night, Matt Mays and his band rocked the internet with “From Burnside With Love,” a stunning semi-unplugged concert that transported this self-confessed live music junkie into his “happy place.”

Filmed back in the winter months of 2018, Matt assembled a stellar ensemble to perform this intimate show in his hometown – the event recorded at Swearnet Studios in the City of Lakes Business Park.  Directed by Joel Stewart, “From Burnside With Love” shares all the hallmarks of the classic MTV Unplugged format, with ten cameras capturing unique footage of the strategically placed artists in-the-round, surrounded by an outer circle of loyal home-town fans.  “It was an emotional show for me being in my hometown and taking all these little trips back in time through song,” Matt shared prior to the airing of the show. “I’m very proud of what we did, and I’m really happy we get to share it with you.”

Performing 24 original compositions to a very appreciative audience, this intimate affair proved to be a perfect Saturday night of online entertainment.  Everything about this live stream was top notch, from the outstanding sound quality, the hi-definition video imagery, and the camaraderie between the artists and the room – an atmosphere that any artist would love to create each and every time they grace a stage.  And what a supporting cast that Matt brought with him on this given night, with regular band-mates Adam Baldwin (guitar/vocals), Leith Fleming-Smith (piano), Serge Samson (bass) and Damien Moynihan (drums) all present, and rounded out by guests Kendel Carson (violin/vocals) and Asa Brosius (pedal steel/dobro/banjo).  The inclusion of “Morning Sun” to the set list, a track taken from Matt’s 2006 “When the Angels Make Contact” album, also saw vocalist Kristin Hatt momentarily join the band to add her amazing harmonies for this number.

Matt Mays From Burnside With Love - Band Picture

Clocking in at just under 2 hours in length, the concert saw little in the way of banter between the artists, edited to focus primarily on the music, which was completely understandable, given the generous 24 track selection of tunes.  The cameras did not miss a beat, however, capturing the non-verbal cues between the artists, through eye-to-eye contact, smirks, smiles, and all-out bursts of laughter.  Detected early during the second track, “City Of Lakes,” Mays is clearly trying to elicit laughs from both Kendel and Adam, and during a performance of “Tall Trees” later that show, seemingly takes great pride in doing so.  “This wildly different version of Tall Trees came from me just trying to crack the band up, most likely during a mundane sound check somewhere,” Mays shared. “It’s impossible for us to play this version without cracking a smile. Even just trying to keep up with the band always makes me laugh.”

Those paying close attention may have noticed that the track placement on the album (as on streaming platforms) did not entirely match the online show.  The performance of “Wasn’t Meant to Be” came in prior to “Cocaine Cowgirl” during the event, yet appears mid-card on the album version.  There were similar subtleties with “Chase The Light” and “NYC Girls” also, not that it detracted in any way from the performance – but for those being lazy like myself, thinking that no work was needed in detailing the set list, it made me sit up and take extra notice.  For those familiar with previous live performances from this band, there were other slight changes too.  For instance, Leith Fleming-Smith was not granted the opportunity for his spectacular piano solo to close “Terminal Romance” (the opening riffs of this track still rendered goose bumps, as it always does for me), yet found himself in the spotlight for some additional piano work during “On The Hood.”  A slower rendition of “Take It On Faith” also allowed both Kendel and Asa to shine with their contributions on violin and pedal steel.  But these subtle changes also served to keep the music fresh, presenting new takes on familiar tunes, and during this performance, was executed to perfection.

Popular tunes such as “Indio” and “The Plan” were naturally incorporated into the set, mixed amongst deeper and lesser-played cuts such as “Lost Souls” and “The Past,” the latter given a beautiful and eerie alt-country makeover, courtesy of some stunning steel from Brosius.  Adam Baldwin fulfilled his vocal harmonies duty with ease, as did Kendel Carson, who had much more familiarity with the music than I could have ever expected.  Her vocal contributions to “The Plan” were as equally impressive as her extended violin work during both “Cocaine Cowgirl,” and the moving ballad, “Chase The Light.”  And lest we not give credit to the duo who remain the backbone of this ensemble; Serge keeping the timing in check all evening, and Damien’s often-understated cues, such as those well-timed snare taps during “Lonely Highway Night,” delivered immediately as Matt recited the lines, “I can feel my heart beating in my chest.”  The road-tested chemistry and camaraderie between every artist in this musical circle made this event such a success.

The stirring rendition of “Dark Promises” was another welcome addition to this set, yet Matt came close to scratching this recent composition from the show at the last moment.  “I almost cut Dark Promises out of the set list due to some trouble collectively getting the right feel for a new version,” he shared. “The band knew how much it meant for me to have this song on the set and buckled right down and kicked my ass until we got it right.”  It would be a pair of Matt’s most recent songs that would close out of the performance.  Seated at a beautiful grand piano – most likely moved into place during an unseen pause for this encore – he would be joined solely by Kendel to deliver “Faint Of Heart,” (notice the audience recreating ‘candles’ with the lights of their cell phones) before sending the audience home with a remarkable piano-heavy rendition of “Station Out Of Range.”  The range of feelings and emotions encountered during this evening came courtesy of one of Dartmouth’s finest, and proved once again that nothing stirs the soul like a live music experience of this nature.  I personally cannot wait for the arrival of my triple vinyl album so that I can revisit this magical moment of amazing music time and time again.

Set List:

  1. Downtown
  2. City Of Lakes
  3. So Distant
  4. Lonely Highway Night
  5. Wasn’t Meant To Be
  6. Cocaine Cowgirl
  7. Lost Souls
  8. The Plan
  9. On The Hood
  10. The Past
  11. Spoonful Of Sugar
  12. Never Saw It Comin’
  13. Morning Sun
  14. Tall Trees
  15. Terminal Romance
  16. Northern Belle
  17. Indio
  18. Ain’t That The Truth
  19. Chase The Light
  20. NYC Girls
  21. Dark Promises
  22. Take It On Faith

Encore:

  1. Faint Of Heart
  2. Station Out Of Range

Photo Credit: Artist Website

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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