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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

M. Ward is all substance (and no flash)

The sign leading into the 40 Watt Monday night read "Absolutely No Photos" which is not something you see too often. Most musicians today stopped fighting the wave of recording and picture-taking at their live shows.

But M. Ward was having none of it. He was kicking it old school, and taking his show into consideration, it makes perfect sense.

For his almost 90-minute set in front of a packed house, Ward and his tight band wound through 20 songs, running the gamut of musical styles to showcase songs from his extensive catalog. At times bluesy, folksy, rollicking and quiet, Ward kept the crowd happy with old favorites (Big Boat) while playing a good handful of songs from the album Hold Time, which was released earlier this year.

He opened the show solo, rocking out on the acoustic guitar with One Hundred Million Years, then donning the harmonica for the soulful Fuel for Fire from the 2005 release Transistor Radio. The band joined in for Post War, and the party was on. Usually strapping the guitar, Ward ventured off to the piano for Hold Time, To Save Me, and the aforementioned Big Boat, which was just a straight-ahead cavalcade of sound.

What's most interesting about Ward's live show is too often the songs end just as the crowd is really getting into them. But Ward was ready for this, picking up the slack by diving into the next tune with verve. His final push before the encore – Requiem, Chinese Translation, Rave On – ended with a fantastic cover of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven. It's not a song often covered in the 40 Watt, but then again neither is seeing the lack of constant camera clicks from the crowd.

Ward played two encores, singing Magic Trick before ending the night with Bad Dreams.

The crowd left wanting more, but perhaps that's what Ward wants. The phrase "Take a picture, it lasts longer" doesn't work for him - he wants the image to last in a certain time at a certain place.

And isn't that better than a picture, anyway?

- Ed Morales
Listening to Josephine by Magnolia Electric Co.

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