By: Joel Peterson
For Matt Costa, it was skateboarding or guitar. High school never really entered into the equation. After a leg-shattering wreck, guitar chose him. The 25-year-old Huntington Beach native, Jack Johnson understudy and folkie on the rise used his lengthy recovery time to hone his jingle-jangle licks while, presumably, the trucks of his skateboard rusted slowly in some dark corner. After befriending No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont through the burgeoning So-Cal arts scene, Costa was encouraged to start recording the compositions he’d made while injured. Dumont went on to produce Costa’s first full-length album, Songs We Sing. After a stint of summer music festivals and a tour with label-mate Jack Johnson, Costa now finds himself headlining (and selling-out) a tour in support of his new album, Unfamiliar Faces.
Costa plays El Corazon 2/8, Dads Wait Nervously Outside
Friday, February 8th, Costa played to a sold out, all-ages audience at Seattle’s El Corazon. Fathers’ daughters were dropped off by the SUV-full to see the brown-eyed crooner perform his dreamy tunes. To an objective first timer like myself, Costa’s shy-guy delivery and aw-shucks stage presence flirted with phlegmatic, but the belief that he seemed uninspired was the minority opinion. My informal exit polls pegged him as “cute,” and even “amazing.”
Most songs were strict interpretations of the album versions, without the benefit of Dumont’s polish, frustratingly so. The ragtime, toe-tapping “Mr. Pitiful” begged for an extended version. I envisioned Costa pounding away at the infectious piano hook while the band towed the line before rounding it up for a final chorus—or two, or three. Friday’s presentation felt like Costa surreptitiously snuck it into the middle of the set only to saltate forward to sing-along classics (if you’re 16) like “Sunshine” and “Behind the Moon.” Perhaps Costa is not yet comfortable with the pianist role he’s assumed on Unfamiliar Faces’ first single.
Shortly thereafter, Costa remarked, “I’m going to play something softer.” With things felling flaccid already, I braced myself. Along came “Vienna,” a new song about missing an American girl while in Germany. But just as the energy of Costa’s pop songs was stifled, the emotive longing of “Vienna” was conversely, uh, softened.
Returning to stage for an encore, Costa finally showed a glimmer of personality (hopefully) lying under the surface. An intimate, solo-acoustic performance of “Astair” from Songs We Sing gave him a chance to show off what 18 months of lying around with a guitar propped gingerly over a broken femur can do for a person’s finger-picking prowess. If Costa wishes to eschew the pages of Bop, there’s hope for him in moments like these. Otherwise, keep the sing-alongs coming—Dad’s warming up the Yukon.