Matt and Kim unleash their enthusiasm at the Commodore
At the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday, October 28
There’s something to be said for the power of unbridled, shit-eating-grin enthusiasm, of which Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino have no shortage. I went into the duo’s Sunday night Commodore show with as close to a blank slate as you can get. I couldn’t have told you the names of any of their songs, although I was aware of the pair as those Brooklyn hipsters who ran around Times Square bare-ass naked. I also knew that Straight music editor Mike Usinger can’t resist using the term “perma-peppy” every time he writes about them.
In fact, it was that very quality that made me certain I was going to hate every second of the duo’s set when Matt and Kim kicked off with “Block After Block”. Schifino was by far the worst offender, repeatedly climbing atop her kick drum to stand there, banging her sticks together and smiling like a woman who has just been awarded the title Happiest Girl in the Whole USA. Singer-keyboardist Johnson was relatively more restrained, but he seemed just as thrilled to be there with his (as he put it) partner in sex and music. I spent the first few relentlessly upbeat songs wondering how long Matt and Kim could keep this shtick up.
The answer, I came to learn, is “indefinitely”, and it’s not a shtick. These two are for real, and so is their following. On a drizzly October night in Vancouver, the Commodore somehow transformed into the Williamsburg house party to end all house parties. As a nod to Halloween, a few fans even showed up in animal costumes, which prompted Johnson to crack a joke about “furry sex”. Matt and Kim were the genial hosts, but they made sure the show wasn’t just about the people on-stage. At one point, Schifino produced a bag, from which she tossed out fistfuls of balloons. The job of those who caught them was to use their own lung power to inflate them, and then toss them into the air at a key moment during “It’s a Fact (Printed Stained)”. It was low-tech, sure, but it provided an explosion of colour that rivalled any fancy-pants laser show, with the added appeal of making the venerable ballroom’s dance floor look like a toddler’s birthday bash.
Speaking of explosions, the show was punctuated by them, and I’m not talking about the firecracker that some joker down front tossed in the general direction of the stage. Johnson would intermittently press a button, triggering audio and video of something blowing up real good, usually after a brief excursion past the borders of good taste. These included leading the audience in a sing-along to the chorus of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” and having Schifino held aloft by the audience while twerking to Diplo’s “Express Yourself”, which pumped over the PA. Matt and Kim made it clear that they had come to have a good time and were intent on revelling in their love of pop in all its various permutations. Hence the bit of Ludacris’s “Move Bitch” that popped up during “Cameras”, and the surprisingly effective cover of Alice DeeJay’s late ’90s Eurodance banger “Better Off Alone”.
The duo’s own songs aren’t as terminally cheerful as the ever-chipper folks delivering them appeared to be. Given the way Matt and Kim joyously blasted through “Lessons Learned” on Sunday night, for example, you would have been forgiven for missing the inherent pessimism in lyrics such as “Thinking about tomorrow/Won’t change how I feel today.” There isn’t a whole lot of tension in this music, though, and therefore not much in the way of drama. A Matt and Kim show is more like one big outpouring of good vibes, and it’s hard not to be swept up in the momentum of something like that. Vocally, Johnson is kind of like that guy from the office who really isn’t that great a singer but who consistently kills it at karaoke through sheer personality. Schifino plays a stripped-down drum kit—she doesn’t even have a hi-hat!—but she does a lot with a little, hammering out the beats with, as you have probably guessed by now, unbridled, shit-eating-grin enthusiasm.
And, despite my misgivings, I didn’t hate it after all, so score one for Matt and Kim.