Friday, October 13, 2017
Article By: Morgan Bancroft-Howard
No words were necessary for M. (Matthew) Ward as he stepped onto the Fox Theatre stage in Boulder, the night of Friday the 13th. Picking up his sleek, black Cordoba “Solista CE” electric classical guitar, he rolled right into a jam session of his own mind. The crowd was silent and tension was building, as people bounced on the balls of their feet, prepared to move but unable to, as Ward had everyone utterly transfixed. He continued to pull at the strings of his guitar with his eyes closed, moving about the stage with his own music. The tempo sped up, and got more complicated as the crowd got more and more excited. A few people whooped and hollered, praising him and breaking the spell in the process. His fingers moved faster, sliding up and down the frets with intensity. If you shut your eyes, you would feel calm, and be lulled into a world where the only thing that exists is the music.
This is how M. Ward entered the stage; with a presence that exudes confidence and skill. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Ward was immersed in the music scene and easily became inspired by old folk and blues recordings. As a kid, he taught himself the guitar, working through different Beatles songs and eventually recording his own music on a four-track analog tape recorder. In the late 90’s he was signed by Co-Dependent Records and began producing and recording albums of his own, culminating in a series of single albums through 2009, one of the more popular being Transfiguration of Vincent. This tour commemorates his latest solo release, More Rain.
Over the years, M. Ward has come to collaborate with many different groups and artists, some of the more well-known being actress Zooey Deschanel of the band, She and Him, as well as Rock-folk group, Monsters of Folk. Ward continues to record music for both of these groups, in addition to his own personal projects. Ward begins each new composition by recording it on the same demo recorder he’s had since he was a teenager.
After Ward’s transformative entrance on stage he rolled into a much mellower number, “Rave On,” that calmed the crowd. Everyone falls into a place of comfort as they watch him sing. Slowly, from backstage, the rest of his band came out to join him, and the song picked up pace as the crowd began to sing along. And just like that everyone was hooked. The lights flashed in warm tones of yellow, orange, and red and there is happiness. One cannot help but grin at the collectiveness he has brought to the room.
From then on, the mood of the show was up-beat. The songs were quick, and the crowd was dancing, and really feeling the rhythm. It becomes so easy to shut your eyes and feel the music. Ward, after the first few songs, switched from the Cordoba to a Black Les Paul guitar, and the tempo picked up again.
Often times the attitude of the performer will make or break the show. What made Ward so successful, so engaging, was his obvious love for the music. During nearly every song his eyes where closed as he was feeling what he was playing, concentrating and in his brown leather cow boy boots, moving with his own rhythm that one couldn’t help but copy in their own dancing. Ward took turns playing to the audience but also to his band, switching sides and collaborating with each musician. He would play to his guitarist, bassist, and drummer, all one at a time and making a connection with them before reengaging with the audience. And all the while he was smiling, whether his eyes where opened or closed--because he was happy, he was in love with his music and that was seamlessly conveyed to the audience.
Nearing the end of his set, he moves into a song called “Slow Drive,” a new song that he had never played in from of a live audience. As “Slow Drive,” began, the tone of the theater once again mellowed. Everyone got quiet, and swayed with their friends or their partners, unable to stand completely still. Here, Ward chose the perfect moment to bring the crowd back to reality before once again speeding the tempo up with a few of his major hits such as “4 Hours” and “Primitive Girl.”
The show ended abruptly, with one of Ward’s many intense and dream like guitar solos. All of a sudden, he was gone, with the band following suit. A large part of the crowd expected an encore, but an encore never came—and isn’t all that surprising. If Ward didn’t need to enter with any words in order to command his audience, he really didn’t need to leave with any in order to satisfy the same audience. In fact, he barely said more than a few sentences throughout the entire show. It was solely about the music. Nearly every song had some sort of tangent made up by Ward in the moment, like an intense riff on the guitar that took the listener away. He accomplished the difficult task of relating to an audience; captivating them with a story, without the use of any words. To master that, is to accomplish a feat not many can stake claim to, and for that he is an artist to be revered.
Hopefully M. Ward can come back to Boulder in the near future, as he is one of those hidden gems we are hard pressed to find very often.