Nathanson and Sanders cajole in Collis

by Frances Cha | 2/2/04 6:00am

In one of the most impressive concerts to hit Collis Commonground this year, Matt Nathanson and opener Blu Sanders performed Saturday night to an enthusiastic audience. Sanders, a quietly charming Texan with a lone acoustic guitar, warmed up the audience with a mellow and slightly plaintive repertoire, while Matt Nathanson brilliantly revved the crowd with his off-beat jokes and obviously immense talent.

"I'm just a Texas boy driving in a blizzard here," said Sanders forlornly about the cold, as he tuned his guitar. He did sound a little lost in the beginning of his act, but that just might have been due to the atrociously rude behavior of the people who kept wandering in just for the food and then leaving. It wouldn't have been so distracting if they had had the decency to be a little sheepish about it, but the poor guy had to put up with their obnoxious chattering too.

As it was practically impossible to differentiate one song from another, they would comprise an ideal coffeeshop soundtrack. The lyrics weren't very strong, but the music was very conducive to pleasant daydreaming.

When Nathanson bounded onstage, the mellow mood subtly became gave way to a charged anticipation. With his slightly punkish hair and earring juxtaposed with a preppy outfit, the artist emanated a down-to-earth air. Comfortably joking with the audience, he felt at home enough to sprinkle in quite a few F-bombs.

Kicking off the show with Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," Nathanson's voice immediately silenced the laughter from his jokes. His voice blended poppy feel with rock, and his style was almost a cross between Counting Crows and the Goo-Goo Dolls. "I got this guitar, and I learned how to make it talk" he sang, and one just had to believe him. Closing his eyes and caressing his strings, Nathanson showed exactly how much he was in love with his guitar.

"The next song is about how obsessing about sex can ruin your life," deadpanned Nathanson as he launched into the fittingly-titled "Church Clothes." The animation with which he played was undeniably contagious, and his talent in working the crowd was almost scary. After all, it takes a lot of skill and manipulation to coax a group of cynical college students into a happy sing-along of Prince's "Starfish and Coffee."

Between songs, he kept the audience in fits of laughter by poking funs at everyone and everything, and especially at himself.

"In high school, I was every girl's best friend. And they were always like 'Why can't my boyfriend be more like you?' but they never wanted me," he said when he introduced a "fictional song about a really really hot girl who realizes her life is meaninglessly empty because she can't sleep with Matt Nathanson." The song itself had an addictive melody, and the mood of the lyrics was heightened by his quirky expressions and gestures.

After a few songs by himself and his acoustic, accompanying cellist Matt Fish joined Nathanson onstage. The unlikely pairing of the acoustic and the cello proved quite incredible. The cello immediately added an incredible depth to the pop-rock feel. "Watching the two of us play is sort of like watching two people masturbate," he joked by way of introducing his accompanist. "You're intrigued by what a good time they're having, and then you're like, 'Whoa there.'"

His original songs, including one that was featured in the soundtrack of "American Wedding," showcased his talents as a serious and noteworthy songwriter as well as a singer. By fusing melody and light emotion, and by combining a hilarious show with such engaging music, Nathanson proved to be one of the Programming Board's wisest choices so far.