For some bands, the full album tour — where a group trots out one of its classic albums front-to-back live — can be a gimmick, a way to make even more money off of an already successful record. But then there are bands that actually pull it off.
Matthew Sweet is firmly in the latter category, as he proved in The Egg’s Hart Theatre Friday night. Before a crowd that filled maybe two-thirds of the venue, Sweet and his stunning band tore through his classic 1991 breakout album “Girlfriend” with a fiery passion that at least equaled, if not surpassed, the original, raw recording. Clearly, this music still means something to Sweet, who wrote and recorded the album in the midst of a divorce, and he didn’t shy away from the difficult emotions found in these songs.
The album opens with some of Sweet’s biggest hits, and the band didn’t pull any punches. “Divine Intervention” was stretched into a ferocious jam featuring no less than three shredding solos from guitarist Dennis Taylor, who continued to impress throughout the rest of the evening. “I’ve Been Waiting” and “Girlfriend” followed suit, each building to a frenzied conclusion. (Sweet made a crack about the first three songs being his usual encore, jokingly wishing everyone good night after “Girlfriend.”)
As great as this opening salvo was, the deep cuts truly made the show, starting with the melancholy “Looking at the Sun.” “Evangeline” was an early highlight, as Sweet locked in with bassist Paul Chastain and longtime drummer Ric Menck on the song’s thick, grinding chord changes, while Taylor ripped out more guitar wizardry.
Sweet made sure to announce the beginning of side two on the original vinyl album with “Day For Night” — a nice touch, especially for the longtime fans in the crowd who undoubtedly owned or still own the album on this format. But beyond that, there’s a definite mood shift on the second side of the album that the band quickly tapped into live.
Latter rockers “Don’t Go” and “Does She Talk,” technically one of three “bonus” tracks to the original album, snarled and growled appropriately, as Taylor continued to work his guitar magic. And album closer “Nothing Lasts” proved that Sweet has lost none of his vocal power — if anyone really needed further proof.
But by far the best part of the full album excursion was album centerpiece “You Don’t Love Me,” one of the most mournful cuts on the original record. Here, the song was made all the more heart-wrenching, with Sweet and Taylor weaving dense guitar textures in and out of the bittersweet melodies.
Former Hudson Valley natives A Fragile Tomorrow opened with a rocking set of power pop numbers not too dissimilar in sound to Sweet’s band, as the audience slowly filtered in. The band stuck to songs from their soon-to-be released fourth album, ranging from full-throttle punk to more esoteric, atmospheric numbers. Three of the band’s five members are brothers — drummer Dominic Kelly and guitarists Sean and Brendan Kelly — and their rich, engaging harmonies were the highlight of the set. The vocals were rivaled only by Dominic’s nimble drumming — during one song, he shifted from a speedy 4/4 rhythm to a loping 3/4 for a brief moment before the band blasted the song home.