Mat McHugh @ The Corner, Melbourne (07/06/2012)

Word of mouth has been pretty favourable to Mat McHugh. The front man of The Beautiful Girls has launched his new album Love Come Save Me and the tour of the same name, both free of the ‘music industry bullshit’ that he says is too easy to get bogged down in. Purely marketed by social media and word of mouth, Matt still packed out the Corner Hotel on Thursday; the masses enthused and intrigued to see the heart and soul of The Beautiful Girls perform without the band that has flanked him for ten years.

Softly-spoken Melbourne musician Hayden Calnin takes the stage first; the large crowd giving him its (mostly) undivided attention for his first few tracks. And the self-produced singer-songwriter won himself fans, for both his music, and demeanour; Calnin was nonplussed as the crowd conversed while he played his own brand of emotive folk. Calnin, with his debut EP due in July, won McHugh and plenty of new fans over with his heartfelt vocals and his creation of intricate sound scapes. Calnin’s expert use of loop pedals turned one man; his guitar and occasionally some keys into some compelling tracks that made the crowd take some serious notice.

McHugh doesn’t stray too far from Calnin’s method; he plays mostly acoustic, stripped-back songs early on in the set, before he too takes to the loop station to bring some oomph and crank up the tempo. Just like he mixes up the tempo, McHugh mixes up the set list; playing older Beautiful Girls songs combined with a sizeable slab of his new solo album Love Come Save Me. But McHugh didn’t stop there; sliding in covers and even some ‘white-boy 1980s hip-hop’ to keep the crowd transfixed.

And keep the crowd transfixed he did. Blessed with bucket loads of charisma, McHugh’s relaxed nature and understated manner means an audience never has to try to like him. But this was something else, with the crowd perhaps the best, most respectful, adoring mob of punters I’ve encountered; eerily quiet in the soulful moments, but raucous and participatory during all others.

McHugh’s pretty quietly spoken during Beautiful Girls gigs; he says he doesn’t like to talk about what a song means to him when he’s surrounded by his predictably bored band-mates; but he embraces the solo gig by opening up a little, telling stories and cracking jokes. The crowd hangs on every word as he talks of how Andy Irons’ death sparked the writing of the title track from Love Come Save Me, and swoons as he dubs the song his father used to sing to his mother over the top of On A Clear Day.

McHugh’s up-front and honest about what he presents and what the future holds. With a full tour for Love Come Save Me yet to come, he’s playing Beautiful Girls tracks for the last time before he starts to play gigs featuring only his solo stuff.

Oh, and The Last Beautiful Girls will be playing their last gigs together at The Corner later this year. Mat told fans that the move was one of progression; that fans should be excited for the future rather than sad or regretful, and that the same heartfelt lyrics and emotive melodies would be present, no matter what moniker Mat was operating under.

Returning to the stage after 75 minutes and raucous cheers for an encore, McHugh played another three songs for the ever-appreciative crowd, with old favourite Cash Money and new track Strange Days featuring.

The highlight had to be Mat’s self-proclaimed ‘white-boy 1980s hip-hop’ over the top of the crowd belting out the lyrics of Music. A 1980s horror movie and hip-hop buff, McHugh went out of his way to provide the crowd with an experience unlike other gigs.

Like the crowd; I was drawn in by Mat’s audience-first ethos; his decision to release Love Come Save Me for free download on his website, to avoid marketing for the tour and to jam as many songs and stories as possible into his set; it all smacks of a man who’s achieved all he can with one project and is going to undertake his next project differently, but with all the passion of the previous one. If this is progression, I love it. And the crowd did too.