Sitting alone at his piano, Matt Maltese unceremoniously transfixes audiences. It seems to come naturally to the English musician; his agonizing lyrics and powerful vocals speak for themselves without theatrics.
On Nov. 7, Maltese graced The Chapel in San Francisco, filling its intimate, ligneous space with a sold-out performance that bordered on the otherworldly. Joined only by his guitarist and drummer, Maltese perched regally at his piano — a spot he would not retreat from the entire show. Yet, throughout his hourlong set, he commanded the venue with ease, stirring audiences with potent vocals that brought forth the melancholia embedded within his discography.
Dusk may have fallen upon San Francisco, but that didn’t stop Maltese from wishing the crowd a jaunty “Good Morning.” The bubbly opening track to his third album, Good Morning It’s Now Tomorrow, set the stage for the rest of Maltese’s set as he played tracks to help audiences “push (their) demons away.”
Yet, part of this process involves addressing one’s pain, something Maltese did effortlessly through tracks such as “Rom-Com Gone Wrong.” Wistfully crooning, “These days I’m gone, I go for anything,” Maltese lulled concertgoers into a desolate stupor before jumping into an emotionally charged final chorus. Shouting the song’s somber lyrics, the crowd buzzed with the sort of elation one feels after slowly exhaling a deep breath. It was as if Maltese harnessed the ability to alleviate individual qualms through candidly recognizing shared experiences of loss and self-doubt.
As audience members tearfully shouted the chorus of “Curl Up and Die,” Maltese showcased his astounding vocal range. Prolonging the notes of the chorus, Maltese’s voice was clear and booming — resonant and dynamic even among a crowd desperate to sing the lyrics along with him.
“San Francisco, you’re very loud … in a good way,” Maltese joked after a fan abruptly shouted a song request. Yet, during Maltese’s most melancholic tracks, the crowd was steeped in silence — merely onlookers to his grand, entrancing presence. Trilling on the piano, Maltese seemed as though he was in a world of his own; he and his piano were continuously in conversation, letting viewers catch a mere glimpse of their cordial relationship.
Playing the gut wrenching opening notes of “Studio 6,” fans sighed simultaneously, emotionally preparing themselves for the impassioned performance to come. Maltese ardently relayed the torment of temporality, lilting, “I see two lovers kiss on the street by Studio 6/ And I remember the petrol-thick mist, we settled our lips.” Silence quickly washed over the crowd as the audience poignantally observed the young artist earnestly recall memories rich with desolation.
Just as tears began to roll down the cheeks of concertgoers, Maltese quickly lightened the mood. Transitioning to a bossa nova version of the song, the crowd members bubbled up with laughter, immediately jiving with one another and wiping their tears away. For a song laden with the ache of memory, it was as if Maltese sought to craft new memories with his audience — moments glowing with jubilee rather than sorrow.
Imparting his appreciation for those enamored by his music, Maltese fittingly played the delightful “You Deserve an Oscar.” Doused in ruby light, the musician gleamed as he swayed at his piano stool, looking out to fans who repeated the chorus, “And I think you deserve an Oscar/ For pretending nothing’s wrong.”
As the night came to a close, Maltese performed his 2017 hit, “As the World Caves In” — a track that details a couple’s last evening on Earth as the world crumbles around them. Belting bittersweet but beautiful lyrics, Maltese performed with passion that permeated through the hearts of concertgoers.
“And here it is, our final night alive,” the crowd sang with Maltese. Though the Earth kept spinning on its axis, the intensity with which the artist and his fans sang the sullen lyrics made it seem as if the world would collapse at any moment.
Yet, Maltese’s comforting melodies soothed the audience; even as he detailed the destruction of the planet, Maltese managed to infuse The Chapel with warmth.