It was a full circle moment when Matthew Good’s acoustic tour announced its Halifax stop at the Marquee Ballroom, as I was in this very room when Good kicked off his Moving Walls tour back in 2020. That was one of the last live shows that anyone would attend in person for nearly two years without any thought of lockdowns, masking or vaccines. As Good would joke, he wasn’t one of those musicians who took advantage of the time to hone his skills; instead, he relied upon CERB and Stocks to make it here to 2022.
On his trek eastward, he brought along with him a talented singer-songwriter from London, Ontario by the name of Carly Thomas. Heading into the show, little was known about the opening act, but the moment that she strode to the microphone and started playing her guitar, she won over more than a few new fans. At first, a double-take was needed as Thomas bore a striking resemblance to local artist Ria Mae, but her voice was distinct and familiar. Some have dubbed her style of songwriting “Americana”; in her own bio, you’ll see the term “Folk Pop”. The former might be a better fit, as her voice has this warm honey-hued tone that sounds like a late afternoon sunset. Her set was a scant but fantastic 30 minutes, and made me hope that upon her return to Halifax she may find herself on the Carleton stage, as she would be an excellent fit for the Halifax Urban Folk Fest lineup.
Then it was time for the headliner of the evening, Matthew Good, who was making his return to the Halifax area after the extended Covid hiatus. The room was packed, with a legion of long-time fans, contest winners and in some instances the grown children of those long-time fans. It was clearly a crowd comprised of folks well into their 30s and 40s, but all of whom have built relationships with Matthew Good’s work with both Matthew Good Band, as well as his extensive solo catalogue. Typically, when the BC-based singer-songwriter hit the road, he had a band backing him, which allowed greater flexibility in choosing a setlist. As he explained to the crowd, touring as a solo performer had some limitations. Good explained that while he may be able to perform a portion of a song such as “Weapon”, without that band behind him, it lacks the crucial elements, thus preventing certain songs from being included.
The great thing about his extensive catalogue is that even with a pared-down list of potential songs, you’re going to be treated to a number of deep cuts. On this Saturday night in Halifax, it was a set geared toward long-time fans. While casual fans got the prerequisite “Load Me Up”, the hardcore crowd got to hear cuts such as “Champions of Nothing”, “Selling You My Heart”, and “Los Alamos” (which was played in near darkness, with only the Marquee disco ball providing sparkle to the dour, heart-wrenching tune). The often wry and curmudgeonly artist explained his love of coming out East, and he has made it a point over the past 25 years. He’s an artist that has played many rooms around town, but always finds his way back to the Marquee.
Having been to enough shows, you know some nights have magic in the air where the band and artist are in lockstep the whole way, but on this night there was a disconnect happening somewhere in the room. You can argue that it’s a bar, and some chatter is to be expected, but on this night it seemed to be an abnormal amount to a point of disrespect. As Good joked early on, we all have those off-nights, and unfortunately, that was the case for the crowd here on this night. Carly Thomas and Matthew Good deserved better, as this was a set that could have been something special, had the crowd been on board.