Jonah Matranga kicked off a run of UK dates this week in support of new album Me and You Are Two. Here’s five things we learned watching him make the Windmill feel as intimate as a candlelit living room.
SUCCESS CAN BE FOUND IN THE SMALLEST OF SPACES
In the 25 years since the first Far records Jonah Matranga has watched his friends enjoy all kinds of success. Brandon Boyd became a shirtless sex symbol with Incubus while Deftones escaped the noose of nu-metal and emerged as one of the most artful and esteemed heavy acts of the new millennium. When he opens with Aeroplanes, then, with the line “My friends will all be famous…” it’s not with any sense of having been left on the ground. With the final notes ringing out he looks longingly at the low plastered ceiling but he could well be staring out at the stars. “I have a pretty simple definition of success,” he says. “Finding joy with people in small places, with people who have gathered because they want to.”
R2D2 IS A SURPRISINGLY GOOD WINGMAN
Matranga has cropped up on a surprising variety of records over the years, singing with Geoff Rickly in Thursday one moment then trading lines with Lupe Fiasco the next. But the oddest guest is the one he brings along tonight: a plastic R2D2 sitting seven inches tall on his own barstool, guarding Matranga’s iPod backing tracks like a sentry. Referred to only as ‘Robot’, he’s noisiest when counting an intro to the abundantly cheerful Smile, and most energised in a wigged-out solo of loops and trills and chirps which sound as if his little circuits are being utterly toasted. Page had Plant and Hall had Oates, but Jonah has Robot and for sheer entertainment value they’re unbeatable.
A LITTLE BIT OF HUMOUR GOES A VERY LONG WAY
Angst without respite can be terribly wearing, and Matranga knows the importance of humour. Leavening the serious moments with jokes and segues, at the peak of Better than Nothing he finds himself inexplicably singing the ‘mamma say mamma ma cu sa’ refrain from Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. A cover of Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable sees Jonah cast as the man who lured Bey away from Jay. “I should write the next Harry Potter book,” he says, “with my head for fantasy…” There are points about deception and warfare in songs like Deafening but he knows better than to get polemic about Israel or Palestine or anywhere else. “Here’s simply to speaking up,” he offers. “Not to be right, but just because that’s what we’re here for.”
THE BEST SONGWRITERS ALWAYS OUTLIVE THEIR EARLY BANDS
With more than 25 songs in the set from at least three bands and various projects, Matranga shows that committed songwriters going it alone can often enjoy bigger victories and greater gains than with a band in tow. The congregation here get a fistful of classics and there are too many requests to honour. We hear Man Overboard (Far), Lukewarm (New End Original), Drive Away (Gratitude) as well as a superior acoustic cover of Deftones Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) and many, many more. The common quality is Matranga himself, who like Bob Mould, say, or Gwen Stefani maybe, has written far better songs alone than he might otherwise have done. Certainly one of his newest, No Hurry, shows exactly how effective he can be with only alternating chords and Casio drums.
THANKSGIVING IS NOT A HOLIDAY, IT’S A WAY OF LIFE
There’s a trend on social media at the moment to state the things you’re grateful for, and it’s not a bad idea at all. Although resolutely secular (“We should be suspicious of anyone who claims to have god on their side,” says Matranga), he has elevated the art of thanksgiving to the level of comprehensive worldview. He’s so effusive in his appreciation for the shared moment, for the now, that cynics often wonder if he’s insincere. Not at all. He’s currently on day 204 of a song a day for fans who helped him make his last album, he’s just spent the best part of two hours aching, stretching and rocking on the balls of his feet for your delectation, and tomorrow he’ll do it again. “Treat each other like you know each other,’ he says. ‘By the end of tonight, I hope you do.”