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Review: Matt Maltese @ The Fleece

The last time I saw Matt Maltese he was bald. Four years later, his hair’s grown out and he’s grown up.

By Mia Smith, Music Editor

The last time I saw Matt Maltese he was bald. Four years later, his hair’s grown out and he’s grown up.

Maltese is a firm believer in ambience over the Big Light. Sitting at his tiny piano, he basks in the glow of a few soft lamps strewn across the stage. There’s also a dying potted plant, an old-fashioned telephone and a cup of tea. It feels like we’re joining him in his bedroom, awkwardly perched on the edge of his bed while he talks us through heartbreak of every degree. He’s even wearing jogging bottoms.

He begins with ‘Good Morning’, the only song on the setlist that’s not completely depressing. He beams, sharing that it’s been ‘surreal to tour after three years and have more people turn up than last time’. During his live absence, Maltese has been quietly leading a softboi revolution. And tonight, armed with mullets and singular hooped earrings, the crowd are ready to cry.

In what feels like a pointed attack the evening before Valentine’s day, he lurches into ‘Rom-Com Gone Wrong’, lyrics like ‘Long baths, podcasts / I'm crying when I'm smashed / Haha, welcome to grieving’ truly stinging. He pauses to let us carry the chorus, and we all star in the same rom-com gone wrong. It’s an ineffable moment - we’re no longer wallowing to Maltese alone in our rooms, but sharing the ache with a few hundred other strangers and a dying cheese plant in his makeshift bedroom. It’s always strange going to a gig where the setlist is overwhelmingly sad, but Maltese proves the perfect guide.

Between these moments of despair, he manages to find a comic relief more genuine than the throwaway ‘haha’ of ‘Rom-Com gone wrong’. He dedicates ‘Curl Up and Die’ to the woman who had to listen to him sing the chorus repeatedly into his voice notes app on an eight-hour flight. Later, he introduces ‘As the World Caves in’, and then starts playing the Succession theme tune instead. Maltese didn’t play his song ‘Greatest Comedian’, but still managed to prove himself just that.

There’s also an amusing initiation for new bassist Jamien - a classic game of two truths and a lie. He apparently has a husky called Emperor Constantine, once got fired from a gelato shop for trying all the ice cream flavours with one spoon, and also killed an entire pond of koi carp as a child by feeding them bread with chilli oil. But the joke’s on us - they’re all true. When I caught Matt supporting Wolf Alice some days later, he shared all the same anecdotes. But they were still funny, and the band still laughed after hearing them for the umpteenth time.

Credit: Mia Smith

Maltese takes great care to build a special intimacy with his audience. He has the unique power to make an entire room cry - even Jamien with track ‘Less and Less’ (‘I remember the warm nights with love in your eyes’). We see everything: how his jaw quivers as he holds a note, how his nose twitches, and how red his ears have turned. The crowd take turns to shush each other, and I’m hesitant to even sip my drink, so intoxicated by watching him sing.

By the time we reach ‘As the World Caves in’, he doesn’t even need to sing. It’s annoying that everyone knows this song because of TikTok, but I try not to be mad - Maltese deserves every success. Arms round his band, he takes a good old fashioned bow and says ‘seriously, thank you for coming’ in genuine disbelief. For encore ‘When You Wash Your Hair’ he returns alone, the spotlights turning red as he lilts ‘The red light in the evening’.

Matt Maltese ripped out our hearts and walked all over them. And it was wonderful.

Featured image: Mia Smith

Have you seen Matt Maltese live?