In American culture, "urban" has long been a weird code word for African-American, but Lawrence Matthews, aka Don Lifted
, has never been complacent about the traditional signifiers of race in this country. Gleefully drawing samples and inspiration from eclectic sources for his compositions, he mixes and matches as he sees fit to convey a wholly personal experience.
Thus, it makes perfect sense that now, as he takes it to the next level by hitting the road, he's dubbed the series of shows his "Sub-urban Tour." And in his promotional materials, he makes a point of noting that "sub" is a prefix "indicating that the element is secondary in rank, falling short of, less than or imperfect." This is all in keeping with the niche he's comfortably occupied for some years now, that of the outsider individualist living in a netherworld somewhere between hip hop and shoe-gaze rock.
Last year's Contour
confirmed that vision, and this year he's taking it on the road — not just as a record, but as a "visual album," compiling the videos produced for every track on Contour
. Today, that visual album will be revealed in a big way. "I've been holding it pretty close to my chest," he notes. "Last year we did a screening at the Malco Studio on the Square for the Contour
Visual Album, and I didn't talk about it anymore after that. We released 'Poplar Pike' and 'Muirfield' and 'Pull Up (Duratec V6)' as music videos from the album. But we actually made music videos for every single song on the album. Put together, that's the Contour
Visual Album. So nobody's seen that but maybe 50 people who came to the screening last year. The new DVD also comes with the album in CD form. That's eight or nine videos that Nubia Yasin, Kevin Brooks, my brother Martin Matthews, and myself all put together in 2018."
Taken as a whole, the visual album promises a good deal of variety. "We shot every single video using a different technique," he notes. "Like, 'let's use a cell phone for this video.' 'Poplar Pike' has VHS combined with analog lenses. We'd take a lens converter from a film camera and put it on a digital whatever. So there's a lot of freestyle experimentation using different video, different editing techniques, and different styles, all woven together."
The tour, which includes dates as far flung as Brooklyn, Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Jackson, Mississippi, and Memphis, will also mark the official release of the DVD over the coming weeks, as he brings physical copies to every performance. And it all starts here at home, with a unique performance in a private yard known as The Barton House
(419 N. Willett Street) on Saturday, September 21 at 8:00 pm. Fast on the heels of that will be his show for the River Series at the Harbor Town Amphitheater on October 6. And finally, he'll play the Green Room at Crosstown Arts in November.
Lawrence Matthews, aka Don Lifted
Every one of the shows promises variety and not a few surprises. "I'll use video like I've used in previous shows, with a whole bunch of footage of the neighborhoods where the stories take place," he notes. "That footage will be playing in the background. Images of fields and trees and street signs and neighborhoods, layered and edited together. Every single show I do on the tour is gonna be different. I'll constantly rearrange the set list and visual information. It'll be like performance art, in a way, because everything will be site-specific. If a site has a giant wall to project on, we'll use that. I want to make every single show different in some way."
And listeners can expect a good deal more than just the latest album. "I'm doing songs from Contour
, songs from Alero
, some covers, and some records that were released as singles. At the first show Saturday, I'm doing 'Wolf River,' but when I do the Harbor Town Amphitheater, I'll do 'Dexter Road.' Switching things around."
The experimentation developed on the tour will culminate in his homecoming gig at Crosstown Arts. "A lot of the dates will just be me and a laptop, but I'm putting together some other things. And then I have a Green Room show coming on November 16. I'm going to have a lot of assistance for that. I wanna beef it up, like with string sections. I'll just leave it at that. I'm excited for it. We're really gonna do some things with that space."