10:54am

Wed August 13, 2014
Arts & Culture

Today's Local Music: Matt Jaffe & The Distractions

Matt Jaffe may be tiring of comments about how young he is. “Your birthday is no measure of your age,” he sings in “Young Enough.” But there’s no way around it: hearing a performer this good at 19 years old is notable.

Matt Jaffe & The Distractions have a strong live performance. They are not kidding around, yet it is clear that they are also having a lot of fun.

Jaffe, from Marin County, has some juddering stage movements, obviously inspired by David Byrne of Talking Heads. Sometimes he jumps in the air, or kneels with his guitar, or grabs the microphone in the manner of Early Elvis or James Brown. He occasionally ends a chorus with youthful yelps, delighting the audience. 

Simply mastering classic rock stage movements won’t get Jaffe and his band too far. Especially, if there isn’t any real feeling, sound and energy behind the motions. But these boys (and that is a fairly accurate term here, since everyone in the group is under 20 years old) do have that authentic sound and energy. 

Three bands played at San Francisco’s 50 Mason Social House ahead of Matt Jaffe & The Distractions when I saw them last month, but they couldn’t ignite the audience the way Jaffe and his band did. 

This was their first outing as a quartet. Previously the other musicians behind Jaffe have been Sammie Fischer on bass, and Alex Coltharp on drums. According to Jaffe’s mother, Elisabeth, who spoke to me after the show (while his dad, Howard, was carrying equipment to the car), their son plays rhythm and lead guitar on demo versions of some of the current songs. That’s impossible to do simultaneously on stage, so now Daniel Lavezzo has been brought in to help with guitar duties. 

Jaffe seems to be such a prolific songwriter that he doesn’t want to play some of the older songs live. I requested “Backs of Our Eyelids,” (81,000+ hits on YouTube), but he joked that they were saving it for a private party later. In reality, the band either hadn’t rehearsed it, or, more likely, they just wanted to concentrate on the newer material. 

And there’s another potential reason for avoiding certain songs when performing in person; Jaffe’s voice is maturing, making new arrangements of some songs necessary. He presently sounds something like David Bowie (who he cites as an influence) with a hint of Davey Jones from The Monkees (who he doesn’t.) “Eyelids” might just be a song that hasn’t been reworked. 

Still, while fans like to see bands grow, they also like to hear the music that attracted them in the first place. A couple of the “hits” at the beginning and end of the shows should be included, to keep listeners from being – well, distracted. 

Matt Jaffe & The Distractions take part in the 29th annual Concerts in the Plaza series in Mill Valley on Sunday, August 17. It's a free show, starting at 2pm.

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