Brooklyn-based duo Matt and Kim are like that guy or girl you know that always wears a sickeningly sweet grin on their face, even if they just got fired, their puppy died, a comet is plunging towards the earth leading to imminent catastrophe, or a combination of all three. Except this time you don’t feel the urge to kick them in the shins to see if they’ll finally break; you’re just too busy dancing.
The real-life couple of Matt Johnson (keyboards and vocals) and Kim Schifino (drums and vocals) just want to play music and have fun—and it shows in their sets. They’re now known just as much for stunning fans with their pearly whites as with the fast paced, upbeat blend of indie-rock and electro-pop they first started creating in 2004. For five years they remained a local phenomenon, until their breakout album Grand (2009) catapulted them from living in Matt’s family’s house to becoming a household name. Their rise is mostly due to Facebook, Twitter, the viral sensation of the video for “Lessons Learned,” and samples of the undeniably catchy single “Daylight” in Bacardi ads, shows like Entourage and Community, and video games like NBA Live 10 and FIFA 10.
The exposure may have raised their profile, but the band has earned their following. Behind the hits of “Daylight,” “Lessons Learned,” “Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare,” and “Yea Yeah” are solid albums that energize, delight, and intrigue listeners with deeper lyrics than their merry melodies may imply. And even though it’s not all rainbows and lollipops, the messages are always positive. After listening to a Matt and Kim album, you just feel good.
And now with the release of their third album Sidewalks set for this Tuesday, they’re taking a new step in their musical career, with more time and money going into the production. This past Friday at The Phoenix they also hit their biggest venue in Toronto yet, with a longer set list and a louder sound. Part of the reason that the two-person band has succeeded in clubs in the past is the impression that the audience is just sitting in on a jam session in their garage. We were wondering if that same charm would transition onto a larger stage.
And though it may not seem like it, the happy-go-lucky temperaments of Matt and Kim were a fitting kick off to the Halloween weekend, because if you weren’t beaming and bouncing within the first few chords, you were probably dead.
9:31 PM: Opener Donnis has only been on for a few minutes, but the floor at The Phoenix is almost shoulder-to-shoulder already, probably the result of Matt and Kim’s promise to play Sidewalks in full as pre-show entertainment. But even though the floor is packed, Matt, casually standing and watching the show, is still spotted by a few fans who proceed to flatter and fawn over him. Matt is gracious and casual, and continues to sing along to the concert before moving to a different vantage point.
9:39 PM: A woman who looks about eight months pregnant walks by—this really is an all-ages show! But apparently no one told Donnis, who just yelled, “Who the fuck is fucked up in Toronto right now? Who drank some shit? Who smoked some shit? ‘Cause I need to get fucked up too!” Classy.
9:49 PM: Even Donnis admits that he, a rapper, is an odd choice to be an opener for an indie rock show. Sure, he’s getting the audience moving, but compared to Matt and Kim, he takes himself way too seriously. But the duo keep the excitement pumping with surprise appearances—Matt pops out from behind a curtain, appearing to be floating in mid-air. And Kim joins Donnis onstage for a dance and tells the audience, “This man makes me so excited, I can’t wait for our set!” Neither can we, Kim!
10:21 PM: The black curtain falls to reveal a pyramid of LED screens, a new high-tech feature for a Matt and Kim show. The two take their signature positions in greeting, standing on their seats, arms raised in the air. “Hey we’re a band called Matt and Kim!” We’re definitely aware.
10:25 PM: Moving closer to the stage, one can feel the onset of Matt-and-Kim-itis. Symptoms? Chronic smiling, contagious laughing, and severe dancing. They launch into “Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare” and there’s maybe two or three feet in total on the floor at a given time.
10:29 PM: Matt and Kim reveal their costume plans for Halloween. Since he already has the hair, he’s considering joining the hoards of Justin Biebers, and Kim ponders going as a slutty Miley Cyrus. We wonder: is there another kind?
10:40 PM: As an intro to “Lessons Learned,” Matt tells the story about how he had to convince Kim to do the video for months before she agreed, but this was one of the rare occasions where he was right. They’re engaging with the audience even more than usual tonight, openly flirting and giving little tidbits about their personal lives. They exude a new “Golly gee, they must actually really like us!” confidence that is not the least bit arrogant or annoying.
10:50 PM: Kim leaves her post at her drum kit to toss a few deflated balloons into the crowd. They’re blown up to reveal the imprinted visages of the dynamic duo, with the logo of Sidewalks on the reverse side. At their command, the balloons are released into the air as the band sets off “It’s a Fact.” The audience’s movements begin to match the flight of the balloons.
11:03 PM: A sorry attempt at crowd-surfing: a guy gets on stage, kind of leans over, and just stands there unsure until security tells him to get off, after which he gently lowers himself off the stage. Booing ensues. To remedy the mood Matt and Kim launch into the best singalong of the night, their version of “Just a Friend” that leads into “Ready? Ok.”
11:07 PM: Matt and Kim’s faces are luminescent with sweat, not only from the climbing temperature inside The Phoenix but from how hard the two are hitting their instruments (Kim has clearly earned her ripped arm muscles). And that guy in the mustard costume has got to be chipotle-flavoured, because he must be HOT!
11:11 PM: Lucky people in the front row—they support Kim’s ankles as she walks out
into on top of the crowd and proceeds to give us all a booty dance. An excellent example of athleticism! The audience gives their own collective shake to “Cinders,” Matt and Kim’s “fastest song ever.” Basically the only dance move is to pretend you’re doing the beep test at level one thousand.
And even though they’re confined to two spots on stage, Matt and Kim’s energy cannot be contained. They give their all to every stroke of the keyboard and bang on the drum, which then feeds the audience, who feed off each other. There’s a general euphoria hovering over the crowd (and not a chemically induced one…for the most part), and it’s incredible. We realize our mouths are hurting from the smirk on our faces that started when Matt and Kim took the stage, and hasn’t left since.
11:25 PM: “This is dedicated to everyone who had a bad day, a bad month, or a bad year. We hope you didn’t, but take three-and-a-half minutes to shake it out of your systems!” announces Matt as the audience buzzes during the slow-motion intro into “Daylight.” Crowd-surfers suddenly appear like popcorn kernels, while others take Matt’s advice to heart on the floor. The song is fun, fast, and simple—about the joy of driving down the street on a sunny day. Some may think it’s corny, but we’re happy to just smile and say cheese.
11:35 PM: And with that, the show ends. No encore, no material from Sidewalks to be heard. We exit as Matt and Kim lean over the edge and are swarmed with hugs and praise. Well if we got that sort of attention we’d be pretty damn upbeat too!
The next day, 9:34 AM: Oof, our thighs are making getting out of bed harder than usual on this Saturday morning. Luckily, the optimism from the concert is just as long-lasting as the physical exhaustion.
Photos by Harry Choi/Torontoist.