It was with a slight sense of apprehension that I headed down to Koko to see M. Ward play Camden on the last night of his European tour.
I had been a genuine fan of his breakthrough album ‘Post-War’ back in 2006, but was markedly less enthused by his twee and rather restrictive She & Him collaborations with Zooey Deschanel, and his latest offering ‘A Wasteland Companion’ released earlier this year. Would he stick to his new material or would I get to enjoy a nostalgic trip down a musical memory lane?
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. M(atthew) Ward treated us to a healthy dose of songs both old and new, peppered with a few happy surprises.
Bittersweet Poison Cup and Chinese Translation were both honoured and elicited delighted cheers from the crowd. Tracks from the new album such as Primitive Girl and Sweetheart that had previously left me cold thankfully came to life on stage, and I was left with a greater appreciation for the record once Ward had shown us how they were meant to be played. A couple of unexpected covers were thrown in for good measure, including Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven and a perhaps overly syrupy rendition of anti-folk hero Daniel Johnston’s Story Of An Artist.
The sweetly husky voice that draws you into his recordings was just as seductive live, and left us wondering exactly how he manages to perfect the gritty yet oh-so smooth vocal combo – I reckon if it was breakfast it would be a slice of burnt toast drenched in honey, except rather than tasting better than it sounds it would sound better than it tastes…
Ward’s lack of on-stage chat and genre-spanning set make him a tricky man to pin down, but his genuine love of music shone throughout the show as he and the band delivered a schizophrenic smattering of country, blues, rock and sturdy folk songs. Whoever he is and whatever he is about, I hope he sticks with what he excels in – showcasing his gorgeous voice with the help of some good solid tunes.