WASHINGTON, June 11, 2014 – The narrative for Matt Pryor goes like this: after his last tour with the Get Up Kids—the band he made his name with and the one he’s generally associated with—he was unsure if he really wanted to continue on with music.
For anyone latching onto that information when it trickled out to the public around 2012, it probably sounded like the lament of someone who was totally exhausted—not an uncommon phenomenon in the frenetic entertainment world. And after all, Pryor didn’t seem like the type of musician who could just walk away from music. It was too clearly an integral part of who he was. But for Pryor, leaving his musical career behind was likely a very real scenario for him at the time.
His self-discovery journey didn’t seem to last very long, and it wasn’t the sole reason that led him to launch his current tour, which included his recent appearance at DC9. But that said, it was part of the process that get him back into music, since his brief disappearance from the circuit was obviously part of a musical crisis in faith no matter what its duration.
Whatever rational and emotional processes were involved, though, his troubled sabbatical seemed to renew both his spirit and conviction. The result: his batteries seem to have recharged, allowing him to return to the music field as a performer and songwriter.
Whether it’s a solo career he decides to pursue, or a return to performing with either the Get Up Kids or the New Amsterdams, or new projects he might be assembling with any number of musicians he’s fond of, Pryor has an extensive library of songs he’s written over the course of his career to fall back on.
Naturally, this songbook was the starting point for his recent set at DC9. It would’ve been easy for him to simply focus primarily on the solo album he recorded after getting back into music, 2013’s provocatively titled “Wrist Slitter.” But that might have been ignoring some of the other reasons why the audience was there to see Matt Pryor.
So instead, he opened up his set here to include any song he had written or sung during his career, so long as that song lent itself to the solo acoustic format he offered here. While that excluded a few songs from his past, this was a smart, eclectic choice and for the most part a necessary one.
There’s always the possibility that Pryor and Get Up Kids as a band are going to be left in the past, or at least not a prominent fixture as they once were in Pryor’s career. But that band is still the best-known portion of his musical life for his fans, so it would be difficult to jettison that material from his set list entirely. So, not surprisingly, he opened his DC9 set with “Valentine” from Get Up Kid’s highly regarded ’99 album Something to Write Home About. His choice was a solid indication of what the audience could expect over the next hour or so.
In fact, Pryor positioned his set to fall across the broad spectrum of his career, and he tried to cover as many bases as he possibly could, even to the point, at times, where he was open to the idea of audience suggestions – although he playfully ignored most of them.
This gave his performance a great deal of spontaneity, even though the bulk of the territory was familiar to nearly everyone listening to him. Critically speaking, the content of his songwriting hasn’t changed too much over the last 20 years, aside from the defining maturity that comes with time.
But the retrospective also highlighted just how strong and consistent a songwriter Pryor been over many years. Whatever changes have evolved over time are almost unnoticeable because there’s an inherent continuity in the way Pryor performs. It’s more than likely that the initial emotion that triggered the songs he wrote in the ‘90s and ‘00s is gone or at least a distant memory.
But his songwriting still holds up all the same. That’s because the emotion behind each Pryor song is what carries them along, and it’s something that’s impossible for him to disassociate himself from even if he were actually interested in doing so.
That’s why the audience was so connected with him during the entire time he was on stage at DC9. There’s a good chance that this crowd, despite their fondness for Pryor, didn’t know a good many of the songs he was playing for them. Yet they could still connect to them on a visceral level.
It’s all because this what Pryor’s been doing ever since he started performing with the Get Up Kids in the mid ‘90s. Perhaps his current appearances are marking a new chapter in Matt Pryor’s life and musical career. But judging from his performance here, not that much has changed for him, even if he has.