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It’s no secret I’ve seen over a dozen Matt Hemerlein performances. From nearly all the Family Hemerlein’s to house shows at Crab’s Claw and even a couple of songs played on the roof of my house during a photoshoot… I was certain I knew what I was getting into last Saturday when Matt played at Intersections Arts Festival in the Sprenger Theatre at the Atlas Theater on H Street.  Maybe it was the late hour, but it was clear from the start that this would be a rare – dare I say electric performance.

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Introduced like a contestant on the Price Is Right, Hemerlein came out with energy levels high, running around the room to warm up the audience. Two songs in (and with the addition of Jeremy Terer on keys) he kicked off his shoes, and really sunk his teeth into the performance but maintained that playful edge with uncharacteristically humorous stage banter.  One notable highlight was when he noticed a pill on the ground (”probably Ritalin?”) and popped it into his mouth for consumption. Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t stall Hemerlein from being both technically proficient and open with the crowd. Of course the ever-so-provocative stroking of his bow while he reapplied resin to the strings while Hemerlein sang the chorus to Jay-Z’s “99 problems” got giggles from the audience too.  Let’s not forget the lap dance that several audience members, keyboardist Teter and yes, even this photographer endured during a track too.

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The music, as always, was beyond brilliant.  Hemerlein knows how to craft songs that evoke emotion from its listeners but still maintain a level of sophistication in their complexity. New track, “88” is an absolute stunner, especially with the addition of Teter’s vocals and keys adding a level of elegance to Hemerlein’s already haunting composition.  I’ll be bold enough to say that the unreleased tracks Hemerlein showcased that night are some of his best, with violin solos that bring me back to his early days of performing.  One can only assume his new musical direction has been influenced by his recent jet-set around the world to Cambodia.

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Truthfully it was the most fun I’ve had at a show, let alone a Hemerlein solo show, in quite some time. Maybe it was the Bon Jovi cover of “It’s My Life” sung for a few bars while Teter smirked from behind the keys.  Or perhaps it was the slow-downed cover of “You’re the one that I want” which Hemerlein introduced as “inspired by Grease and Olivia Newton John’s thighs,” with lyrics toyed with by the maetro (“Take your clothes off and use protection.”)

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All in all, Hemerlein’s at his best right now. And if this performance is anything to judge, the next Family Hemerlein on March 26th at the Gibson Guitar Showroom is going to blow minds.  Let’s just hope he keeps throwing in that James Blake cover, yeah?

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