On Feb. 20, 88.5 WXPN hosted its 10th annual Musicians on Call benefit at World Cafe Live. Local Philadelphian Chris Kasper opened the event for the headliner, Matt Nathanson. Most easily identified by his three biggest hits — “Come On Get Higher,” “Run” (with Sugarland) and “Faster” — Nathanson put on an amazingly memorable performance.
After waiting in a line snaking its way up the three flights of stairs all the way to the upstairs lobby, I was forced to wait another 30 minutes before a screen dropped down in front of the stage to play a short film outlining the idea behind Musicians on Call. The screen rose and the host of the night greeted the visibly impatient audience. One short speech later, Chris Kasper took the stage with his partner-in-music Kiley Ryan and local session bassist Phil D’Agostino. most of the crowd was apprehensive when they saw his setup: an acoustic guitar (Kasper), a fiddle (Ryan) and an upright bass (D’Agostino). As soon as the music started playing, however, all the apprehension was sucked out of the room as Kasper’s beautifully raspy folk lyrics, backed by the sweet fiddle and deep bass, hit the audience in his soft “Ancient-Lo.” Finishing out his first piece, he quickly greeted the cheering audience before jumping into “Raven and the Rose.” The mysterious song was spellbinding with Kasper’s voice booming out as Ryan’s soft backup vocals generated a wholly unique sound. Finishing up the six-song set by himself, Kasper sang the soft-toned “Blessed Little Secrets.”
The crowd was forced to wait once again until the host walked onstage to introduce the headliner of the event. The crowd surged forward and erupted when Matt Nathanson stepped onstage with his guitarist Aaron Tap. Wielding their acoustic guitars, the duo launched into “Annie’s Always Waiting” (off his recent album, “Last of the Great Pretenders”). The crowd was clapping and yelling out their favorite songs so loudly that it drowned out the duo, forcing Matt to stop halfway through the song. Finishing out the song laughing, he grabbed the microphone yelling “Maybe we should ask you crazy barbarians what to play next … but first this song, it’s called ‘Modern Love!’” All the screams and clapping died off as soon as the first notes rang out; everyone began to sway and sing along. Playing through “Modern Love” and “Still,” the crowd was wild. Matt summed this up simply as “debauchery at its finest!” The idea echoed in the back of my head as the crowd screamed wildly; it was nonstop madness for more than an hour as Matt played through his 11-song set. Before launching into another new song, “Heart Starts,” Matt gave a short explanation, “It goes something like this: ‘I’m tired, I’m leaving, you’re terrible.’” The yelling turned into laughter as he finished the thought: “‘Wait … I wrote you a song!’” This was how the rest of the night went: Matt telling some stories, jokes and playing some amazing music. Nathanson talked with fans about the first time he played in Philadelphia and about his current situation, and then bantered with his fans. The show might as well have been called “Meet Matt Nathanson.”
Nathanson finished his set out with one of his most popular songs, “Come On Get Higher,” and the audience sang the lyrics at the top of their lungs and clapped wildly as the duo left the stage with a “thank you, all” and a wave. Now the riotous crowd screamed for an encore, and they erupted into applause when Matt walked back across the stage by himself to thank WXPN for all they’ve done for him — they were the first radio station to air him back in 1998 — before grabbing his acoustic guitar and launching into one of his classic songs, “Little Victories.” Strumming and singing out to the audience, Nathanson gave a beautiful and heartfelt send-off.
Nothing is quite the same as live music performed well, and nothing can top the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when listening to a performer bear their heart and soul out onstage. Once the music started, all the waiting proved to be worth it. The 10th Musicians on Call benefit was a success not only for Musicians on Call, but for Chris Kasper and Matt Nathanson as well.