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Matt Coughline Band

Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009, The Swiss, Tacoma

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I don't care how good you are at writing songs. If you are surrounded by mediocre musicians, your songs will not sound good. That's just how it goes. They don't even have to be bad, exactly. Just boring enough to suck free whatever life you've driven into the song, and mangle the heart and soul before it has a chance to hit the speakers.

In turn, a really good band can take your stuff, shape it into a cannonball and knock an audience right on their asses. The right drummer and bassist and whatever else you need are like a punch in the teeth — but, you know, the fun kind.

Matt Coughlin lands squarely in the second paragraph. He is a good songwriter. He is a good singer. And he has surrounded himself with an absolute punch-in-the-teeth of a good band. Good enough to treat if not cure my avoidance of shows at The Swiss — I got dragged to one of their jam-packed cover-band dance party shows back in 2007, and I haven't quite recovered.

The band in question is Dalton Shotwell (drums), Mitchell Vandenburg (bass) and Kim Coleman (violin). They are all extraordinarily talented and very energetic, particularly Vandenburg, who spend most of the show bouncing around, flailing his arms and occasionally singing along with his own bass solo.

Opening the night was transplanted Seattle act Cady Wire, playing their first Tacoma gig — and apparently having their first Tacoma visit — since a move from New York City. They push a vaguely noisy form of folky Americana, which is enjoyable until keyboardist Nila Leigh comes in with harmony vocals, at which point it becomes bona fide genuine awesome. I very much look forward to their next venture to Tacoma.

I desperately wish that I could have stayed later in the night for closing act Black Sails. In addition to further demonstration of the beat-keeping skills of Dalton Shotwell, singer/guitarist Travis Barker was just absolutely cutting loose on the guitar-blues like nothing else. Their MySpace tracks don't do the band any justice at all. The boy can wail, particularly evidenced on a cover of Moby's “Natural Blues,” belting out the vocals originally sampled from Vera Hall singing “Trouble So Hard.”

 But the story remains Matt Coughlin and his eponymous band of merry musicians. Recording half of a forthcoming live album — to be the first disc released featuring the current lineup, which finished the live recording last night at the High Dive in Seattle — the group blistered through a set featuring a love song to beer, a revenge song for Coughlin's beloved and savagely murdered automobile, and covers of “Moondance” and eternal crowd-pleaser “I Will Survive.”

For as showy as they can be, I was impressed that no one took it too far. At no point did the band overshadow the song or the singer. Coleman's melodious violin harmonies, informed by time spent playing folk music in Hungary, served to compliment Coughlin's voice while Shotwell and Vandenburg drove the songs ever onward.

A good night. A good band. Well, frankly, three good bands, none of whom I plan to miss the next time they pop up on the Tacoma calendar. And a live record I am sure to buy as soon as available.

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