Taking in a show at the Masonic Lodge located within the famed Hollywood Forever Cemetery is always a treat. It’s a small room seating roughly 200, with tall ceilings, two hanging chandeliers and seated cushioned benches to the side. To keep it a little more hip, the walls feature film posters like A Clockwork Orange, while Harold & Maude greet you upon entering. It’s one of the more unique rooms for an acoustic performance in Los Angeles, especially considering you just walked past a few gravestones to get there. Last night we were all very fortunate that M. Ward (real name, Matthew Stephen Ward) decided to play a solo gig there. Having Norah Jones sit in doesn’t hurt either.
For a musician who doesn’t get out much, it was a breath of fresh air to watch the shy yet controlled movements of this acoustic guitar virtuoso. It’s astonishing how much rhythm and story he creates within a two or three minute song. It’s hard not to proclaim M. Ward one of the more important songwriters of this century.
The show started off with few older tunes : “Poison Cup,” “Chinese Translation,” and “Outta My Head.” Each song was slowed down in this acoustic incarnation with Ward speaking the words at times and holding longer notes than heard on their respective albums. He was singing and altering the tunes as if we were in his living room listening in.
The show was off to a damn good start.
Speaking in between songs for far longer than I can remember, the humble Ward told the story of when he was a young boy in Ventura, California. Each morning he ate cereal and would look at the side of the milk carton, it always displaying a photo of a boy or girl — MISSING CHILDREN. He also went to Disneyland with his parents as a young boy and remembers the “It’s a Small World After All” ride. He was confused and didn’t understand how there could be all these missing children — Wasn’t it ‘A small world after all? After a few chuckles from the audience he went into “A Fuel for Fire” …
“Fuel for fire, missing persons
in a small, small world”
Mixing in a few choice covers, the first, a standout version of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” then in a sort of musical-appreciation-revelation for me, M. Ward decided to cover Daniel Johnston’s “The Story of An Artist.” I was familiar with the 1995 documentary film on Daniel Johnston (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) so hearing one of his earliest recorded songs covered by another admirer in M. Ward was one of the highlights of the evening.
Check out the original version by Daniel Johnston:
In trying to write (type) down the setlist between songs I missed a few here and there so forgive me. After a few tunes where Ward showed off his skills behind the piano, there was a great conclusion to one of his newer songs, most likely on the new album out April 10th. He began to loop his guitar, then play over it creating a palate of three acoustic guitars. Then to the attentive audience’s delight, put down the guitar and sipped water out of a mug as the looped guitar parts continued playing. Mixing in “The Sandman, The Brake Man and Me,” (from one of his side-projects Monsters of Folk) then displaying his guitar prowess with the all instrumental “Duet for Guitars #3” added yet another exclamation point.
As the evening pressed on past 10pm, Ward brought up Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes to play trumpet on two songs, then in a move which caused the crowd’s ears to perk up, welcomed Norah Jones to the stage. A stunning presence to say the least, with a voice that seemed to match Ward’s in every sense. It was fitting as the two have worked together a few times in the past on a few of Jones’ albums. They shared vocals to close out the night while Walcott’s trumpet crept in where it needed to. For the encore Jones, before stepping to the mic said — “I didn’t even know I’d be doing this when I got out of bed this morning.”
The encore “One Life Away” was in honor of playing in a cemetery, which starts “To all the people underground.” Ward himself proclaimed this his only cemetery song, which I found intriguing as his song “Undertaker” off Transfiguration of Vincent has always been a favorite of mine. I thought about mentioning this but my eyes couldn’t be taken off of Norah Jones. Forgive me.
Outta My Head
One Hundred Million Years
Rave On (Buddy Holly Cover)
Poor Boy, Minor Key
The Story of an Artist (Daniel Johnston Cover)
Duel for Guitars #3
The Sandman, The Brakeman, and Me
Sad, Sad Song
Clean Slate (For Alex & El Goodo) (w/ Nate Walcott)
Crawl After You (w Nate Walcott)
Lullabye + Exile (w/ Norah Jones)
One Life Away (w/ Norah Jones)
If you’re new to M. Ward, I recommend some earlier work before his new album A Wasteland Companion comes out April 10. Try 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent and 2006’s Post-War. I’ve included some media to help you get started.
“Fuel for Fire” (Acoustic):
An official video of M. Ward’s cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”
Update: check out his new video, “The First Time I Ran Away” …