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Mat Kerekes plays the Songbyrd Cafe

by Molly Guillermo

“Care-a-kiss,” Mat Kerekes, lead singer turned solo artist of the indie pop punk band Citizen, rasped into the mic as he tuned his guitar, on stage in the basement of Adams Morgan’s Songbyrd Cafe. “Not Kere-keys, it’s Kerekes. Care For A Kiss.” He introduced the artists next to him who form the band he tours with, and who electrify his acoustic albums for the stage. His girlfriend, Gabby Navarro, on bass; Jake Duhaime, drummer in the band Citizen; Brett Kaminski on electric guitar; and Jacob Sigman, a crowd favorite for his own solo EPs on keyboard. Kerekes’s live experience is nothing like his record experience, which showcases his softer side. Though Kerekes was still playing his signature acoustic guitar, each song also featured Kaminski’s electric guitar solos, which were nothing short of show-stopping, as he performed solo after solo to the audience’s cheers. Though the performance was unlike Citizen’s darker, more punk than pop feel, Kerekes’s sound was livelier, rowdier, and more light-hearted than his acoustic records. He started with “Ruby,” on of his most recent releases and a crowd favorite. The love song had a fun, bubblegum pop turned rock feel, and the audience cheered when Kerekes sang the bridge in a high falsetto over the sound of electric guitar. “Diamonds”, his other new single, began with a soft vocal run to the sound of Sigman’s keyboard. Sigman had some dedicated fans, who loved screaming “Jacob!” every few seconds. The simple song transitioned into loud drums in the background, complete with a chorus of opera-esque back up singing. Though the fans weren’t entirely on board with the lyrics of such a new song, it didn’t stop them from bobbing their heads along. The louder Kerekes shouted the lyrics, the more the audience echoed them back to him.

He debuted three new songs, which featured your standard pop punk elements—electric guitar distortions and power chord changes with light-hearted and at times trite lyrics. Though the genre hasn’t had significant mainstream success since the 2000s, pop punk is far from dead. Indie artists like Kerekes have a cult following of skaters, teenagers, and punks lacking political motivation, and those fans are truly dedicated. Serious Kerekes and Citizen fans will mosh like they’re at a Bad Brains concert (Bad Brains, a DC based-hardcore band, actually coined the term mosh, so perhaps moshing to pop punk is more acceptable if you’re doing it a concert in the District.) You won’t see Kerekes headlining Coachella any time soon, but intimate basement performances are typical of the genre, giving Kerekes a compelling underground status that makes you feels young and rebellious when you’re watching him sing. Bands like The Story So Far, whom Kerekes’s band Citizen has toured with, also perform in similar underground atmospheres like The Panda Studio’s Waiting Room. The genre’s cult following is mostly young, male, and white, and almost everyone in the audience had X’s on the back of their hands, yet everyone knew all the lyrics to each song, particularly “The Clubs / The People’s Attention”, one of Kerekes’s biggest hits. It was a rowdy performance, with Kerekes shouting into the mic for most of it. The guitar was rougher, coarser, than the other songs, riling the audience up. A Mac Demarco look-a-like standing next to me threw his beer on the ground and yelled “Fuck yeah!”

The show slowed for the song “Riding In Your Car”, which was his only acoustic solo. His voice was strained and even cracked at times, which made his vocal delivery passionate and sincere. His confessional lyricism didn’t come off as contrived, but vulnerable, like watching someone peel back a bandage and show you their wound. As he sang about loving someone, there was a vulnerability in that that made you feel as if it was you who was falling in love for the first time, and it was you who was wishing they “would sing along [to all your favorite songs.]” It was voyeuristic and intense to watch, but everyone in the audience swayed along. “My brother actually wrote this song,” he said beforehand. “I stole it from him. This is for him.” You’d never guess that after watching him perform it.

The kind of people who enjoy Mat Kerekes are mostly Citizen fans, who often yelled “Play ‘The Night I Drove Alone!’” a popular song by the band. Around me, though, I couldn’t help but notice that even the Citizen fans sang and danced along to every song. It was an energetic performance, and a set that was designed bring his slow songs to life and showcase the talent of Kerekes and the other musicians. At times Kerekes seemed truly connected with the musical overflow around him. Though it was his name, his act, there was no ego. He was part of a band, and even one of us. A guy with some angsty emotions, who apparently falls pretty quickly in love.

The final song was “My Lucky #3,” which is Kerekes’s most streamed song on Spotify and Bandcamp. Kerekes’ voice was nearly drowned out by the sound of his fans singing along, and it ended the show on a light-hearted note. “Last night I had my fair share of drugs,” he sang, which seemed like apt lyrics to be stuck in your head after the show. A guy next to me wearing Vans and cuffed chinos (a popular fashion choice in today’s indie youth culture) held up a peace sign and yelled, “Last night I had my fair share of love!”

Molly Guillermo

Based in DC by way of San Francisco, Molly originally hails from southern California and has a background in English. She aims to explore music’s inextricable tie to pop culture and its evolving relationship with politics.

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