M. Ward soars at the House of Blues

A review of M. Ward at the House of Blues on May 8, 2012

, Staff Writer

Matthew Stephen Ward – better known as M. Ward – has been an indie darling for several years. Beyond his role in She & Him and Monsters of Folk, the singer-songwriter has enjoyed great success as a solo act. Touring in support of his recently released seventh album, A Wasteland Companion, Ward stopped at Boston’s House of Blues last week and delivered a show that was surprisingly intimate and thoroughly enjoyable for all of those in attendance.

Through the 80-minute set, Ward only played three songs from the new album, just as the show was winding down. He touched on a number of fan favorites, however, running the gamut of styles, whether it was simple folks or straight-up rock and roll. Ward demonstrated his excellent ability to captivate a crowd no matter what he was playing. It all started with “Post-War,” the title cut from his 2006 album. The audience was immediately captivated by Ward’s confidence and stage presence as he wove through tunes like “Primitive Girl” and “Rollercoaster.”

After all of the side work that Ward has done in the past few years, it’s nice to see him back to his usual tricks. It seems as though he’s appropriated a lot of what he’s learned with his other ensembles and worked them into his solo act, making for a musically diverse experience. Not content to simply play straight renditions of his album tracks, Ward and his backing band turned them into new pieces, constantly keeping the audience surprised. One particularly noteworthy part of the show was when the band dropped into “Magic Trick,” turning it into a vastly different version from what’s on the new album.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the evening was the end of the set, when Ward busted out a string of cover songs. Showing off his ability to creatively interpret songs, he pushed David Bowie’s eight-minute epic “Let’s Dance” to completely new musical boundaries. After closing out the main set, the band came back for a brief encore, which included Elvis Presley’s “Such A Night” and Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” Listening to artists play covers is always special, as it allows the audience to experience first-hand where their influences come from. And for Ward’s fans in Boston, this was a great way to close out what was a memorable evening.

Ward has been around for a while, but he consistently manages to keep fans engaged. Never content to rest on his laurels, he’s been evolving as a musician for several years, and there’s no reason to suspect that he won’t continue to do so for quite some time. With all of the side work he does in recent years, it can be difficult to remember Ward’s career as a solo artist. Yet, he always manages to deliver a solid album every three years or so. Additionally, he brings a savvy to the stage that you don’t often see, knowing exactly how to cater to a crowd. It all comes together to create a live experience that’s absolutely worth checking out.

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