Matthew Sweet and Bangles centerpiece Susanna Hoffs, whether embarking on a significant project or dabbling in a frothy exercise, possess the smarts to surround themselves with ace musicians and top-drawer material. For their live duet debut — nine years after appearing together in “Austin Powers” as the band Ming Tea — Sweet and Hoffs bring a bank of guitars and their two soothing voices to tackle ’60s songs, chart hits and obscure, with an allegiance to the originals that, like any nod to the past, has mixed results.
A month before Shout Factory releases “Under the Covers Vol. 1” — in stores April 18 — Sweet and Hoffs delivered the album’s material in order before a packed house at the Hotel Café. The 15 songs come from the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Marmalade, Love and Neil Young; surprisingly, there’s no single unifier determining whether the two are able to knock a rendition out of the park.
With a spirited assist from Bangle Vicki Petersen, the unit did a bang-up job on the Mamas & Papas’ “Monday, Monday,” but faltered miserably on Brian Wilson’s “Warmth of the Sun.” The exquisite chamber pop of the Zombies’ “Care of Cell #44” was a perfect meeting ground for the lilt in their voices; Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” on the other hand, proved a vocal struggle for Hoffs, who was consistently flat during the tune.
It was apparent, however, that Hoffs was struggling to hear the rest of the band and as the show wore on some sound adjustments eased her ability to hit the right notes. She shined on the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me” and the rasp in her voice gave the Linda Ronstadt hit “Different Drum” a sexy air of distinction.
Greg Leisz, the guitarist who has most prominently worked in the bands of k.d. lang, Dave Alvin and Bill Frisell, makes a bounty of right choices, sticking with the originals in some cases and having a field day with lead lines on others. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Chastain ensures that each song is delivered with a backbone. The bond between these two — their loungey identifier is Sid ‘n’ Susie — is clearly a bit of fanaticism for treasured works by the likes of the Velvet Underground and the Left Banke.
To elevate the show, should they tour beyond a date at the Roxy on April 22, it would be interesting to hear them pull out a couple of songs from their own catalogues and draw a line between inspiration and re-creation.