I feel bad for the other SXSW performers — but mostly for myself — that my time in Austin had to peak so early. At least that’s what I thought in the middle of M. Ward’s solo acoustic performance of “Sad, Sad Song” at the Central Presbyterian Church. And you know what? I might just have been right.
“Sad, Sad Song” follows a lyrical parallel that always reminds me of Johnny Cash. And that night in Austin, M. Ward seemed to be channeling him physically as well. Instead of the indie hero known to a limited few, M. Ward felt more like a folk legend that should be familiar to millions. He put on the most galvanizing performance of any solo acoustic musician I think I’ve ever seen. He’s a great guitar player, a fantastic singer and one of our generation’s best folk musicians.
Matt also trotted out the first song of his I ever heard. After finishing one song, Matt crept up to the mic and slyly delivered a bit of dry humor: “Someone asked me to sing this here, tonight… so I’m going to sing this here, tonight.” After waiting for the laughter to subside, he played “Poison Cup,” a track off his 2006 album Post-War. Whoever that “someone” is, they’ve got good taste.
Before closing up shop, Matt announced that he had one more song to play. He walked over to the piano that had been wheeled out in just beyond the front row, off the stage, and played his last number. If there’s a better way to cap off a near-perfect show, it escapes me. Add to that his fantastic record Hold Time and it’s looking like M Ward could be headed toward having the best year of his already sterling career.