There’s music you play aloud to others, and music you keep to yourself. The sort you plug into your headphones, whilst staring out the window wistfully – often wallowing a little in your emotions. Matt Maltese, more often than not, falls into the latter category.
The reason is quite simple. He’s a go-to for heartbreak (a state you’d often rather not show to the world, save for your best mates). “A few of my songs are about heartbreak,” he would jokingly understate at one moment during his headline gig at Camden’s Koko. Yeah, just a few.
His support act, Sophie May, has a few songs of her own on that same subject and opened her set with one, ‘Cadillac’ — a song about her ex, she told us, even if he couldn’t drive.
Having rose to prominence on TikTok, she now more than holds up on her own beyond the platform. An emerging songwriter worthy of not simply being labelled “a TikTok star”, she instead called herself “the rockstar” – which is ironic, given a lot of her early tracks revolve around falling in love with unsuccessful musicians.
‘Bad Man’, meanwhile, released earlier this year, is as much fun for her as it is her audience, compiling all her “intrusive thoughts” into one song. All in all, her evident song-writing abilities made her a well-matched introductory act for Mr. Maltese. And although she admitted to some nerves, thanking us unnecessarily for “putting up with [her] shakey hands”, she can no doubt take full confidence in her biggest performance to date.
Nerves, however, didn’t seem to hit the main man once he strolled onstage in a casual long-sleeve tee and sat at his piano, accompanied by his drummer and bassist. In fact, everything aside from his Rufus Wainwright-esque musicality is understated. It’s as if he has no point to prove, no real ego, only focussing on the matter in hand.
An accomplished musician, Maltese has become something of the songwriter’s songwriter in recent years, with fans from Doja Cat to Charli XCX, who’ve plugged his work. And he’s had viral success of his own, too; notably with the near-operatic ‘As the World Caves In’, which has received over 250 million streams on Spotify, helped in part after a cover of it found its moment of TikTok fame.
But Maltese would choose to save this track till the end. Until then, of course, came a string of love (and lovelorn) songs. Although after ‘Everyone Adores You’ and unreleased track ‘Mother’ — which considers the wider family involved in, you guessed it, a breakup — a broken pedal on his piano threatened to alter the soaring composition of his tracks. For a moment, too, it had the calm Maltese flustered, moaning “fuuuuck this”.
Once fixed, and thanked for, though, the heart-throbbing continued. There was a bit of rapport with the audience — including a momentary game of Would I Lie To You? involving drummer Jamie and a few of his awkward escapades.
But all in all, it’s the music that takes centre stage with Maltese. As it should. The consoling, lullaby-like ‘Krystal’ proved the best for me.
A proper musician, a proper, recently renovated venue. And a whole lot of plucking at those heartstrings. All enjoyed this time in the company of others. As an encore of ‘Smile in the Face of the Devil’ was being played, and people gently swayed in near-unison, it felt good to know we all feel similarly – no matter what we listen to alone.