The man at the center of all this is Matthew Stubbs, the New Hampshire born and Boston-based Blues Guitarist behind the project. As a kid, Stubbs began playing guitar tagging along with his father to open Blues jams. As a teen, Stubbs was booking gigs as local venues, coming into Cambridge to play at the original House of Blues in Harvard Square, and to The Yard Rock in Quincy, among others.
“When I was in High School,” Stubbs told Melisma, “I wanted to go to Berklee. I was so excited, couldn’t wait to go but it was different than I expected.” Stubbs had been accepted to the Bachelor of Performance Program, but was already “gigging a lot, like three or four nights a week” and felt the program was not allowing him to “focus on exactly what [he] wanted to play at the time.” So Stubbs talked his parents into letting him take a year, leaving Berklee to study independently under “four or five instructors.”
“Looking back, I kind of wish I’d stayed another year,” Stubbs conceded. But he voiced a similar perception to many musicians: that a formalized curriculum simply does not provide an entirely satisfying, or arguably worthwhile, music education. Rather, in addition to his independent lessons, Stubbs found that getting out, observing other musicians and attending shows was just as educational and instructive. “I would go out–I still do this if I don’t have a gig, if I have a few nights off–I’d almost always go to see live music. I go out to see players I like, hear good players, and I think that you do learn more [that way] than by just taking lessons. Going out and experiencing it, sitting in, talking to people…you can learn a lot that way.”
For Stubbs, this method has been fruitful. He has supported a range of notable Blues and Soul artists, currently spending “half the year with Charlie Musselwhite, a Grammy Award-winning Chicago Blues guitarist who came up in the 1960s with Muddy Waters and all those people.”
In 2008, Stubbs put out his own Blues Guitar record called Soul Bender, “which is more 60s Soul, Memphis Soul but all instrumental,” and then his second, Medford & Main, two years later. With The Antiguas, Stubbs began expanding his influences and informing his music writing with genres beyond Blues and Soul.
“I was listening to a lot of other kinds of music…a lot of Afrobeat and Cuban, and also Psychedelic music.” As a result, The Antiguas sound differs from his previous projects in that it is “wide open, more low and with some dub stuff. And it’s even a more low-end, [with] sort of hip-hop-y base that Soul music doesn’t really have.”
While Stubbs writes most of The Antiguas music, he’s joined by drummer Chris Rivelli, bassist Marc Kickox, and Ken Clark on the organ (usually a Farpisia 60s compact). On Downbeat Mondays, they fill in their originals with a few covers. “We play some newer stuff, some 60s obscure garage or psych rock.” The sets are entirely instrumental.
“I’ve done instrumental music for years,” Stubbs explained, “and the one thing I would always find doing gigs, especially in this day-in-age, is that people’s attention spans are just not there…so my concept when we started Downbeat Mondays at the Plough was to have these visuals, and the room pretty dark otherwise. So you listen to the music, but the visuals keep people engaged.” Stubbs acknowledges that a digital visuals have been increasingly salient and creative. “Since we’ve been doing [Downbeat Mondays], I’ve been aware of it more so than before. A lot of DJ’s and House music do projections, and also Psych bands. I’ve also noticed, just watching MTV Live, everyone seems to be using projections.”
Not only does Downbeat Mondays’ use of projections create a multi-dimensional musical experience that is technologically contemporary, but it also alludes to the surrealism of 1960s and 70s Rock and Blues as part of a greater cultural movement, both incorporating and rooted in psychedelia. It was in the heyday of Psychedelic music, and drugs, of the Anti-War Movement and Free Love that “liquid light shows” using overhead projectors and colored oils were popularized into progressive music and avant-garde art scenes, accompanying such acts as Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, and Jimmy Hendricks. These projections were not just meant to complement the music, but also to create a multi-dimensional, even spiritually evocative experience, transporting audiences away from their present reality. Liquid light shows became a fixture of the era. Downbeat Mondays draws on that movement with its digital projections that are designed each week by Tracy Hansen. Now at The Sinclair, the projections and ambiance of Downbeat Mondays will become truer to vintage 60s and 70s liquid light shows.
Co-hosting Downbeat Mondays at the Sinclair is Adam Avelar, who’s “interest in psychedelia in all aspects of art and performance” has him working on liquid light shows “with oil dyes and overhead projectors.” These, along with vinyl-only DJ sets to spin during set breaks, are part of Avelar’s goal for the residency, eventually creating “something like Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitables.”
In this way, Downbeat Mondays is not just moving venues. The convivial bar at The Sinclair is replete with creative cocktails and an expansive craft beer selection, ample room to watch The Antiguas, dance, and fully appreciate the fully immersive, psychedelic live music experience is Downbeat Mondays.