Virginia’s Matthew E. White treads numerous fine lines very closely indeed. Tonight, at his first ever gig outside of the US, at a venue scaled-up as a result of interest in his debut ‘Big Inner’ (released this week), he flitters between the sublime and the, well, ridiculous.
When dressed in civvies, rather than the white suit which adorns the album cover, it somehow makes him appear more like an extra from ‘The Big Lebowski’ than the Philly strings 70s overlord many paint him as. He ambles on to the stage with no word of introduction, backed by six equally bearded musicians, and launches into ‘Will You Love Me’, albeit gently. This is the epitome of the pared down sound which White claims as such an influence, and when he sings in his usual low register, the effect is stunning. Occasionally he stretches up to a yell, which seems less controlled and thankfully occurs only infrequently.
At points the sound in the room is far removed from the precise, considered production of the album. On the likes of ‘Steady Pace’, when White and friends can descend into jam territory, this isn’t a problem, with all manner of percussive instruments brought in to herald a freeform, soulful chaos. However, on slower, bluesier tracks, the sound feels thin, and the succulence of the record is absent.
Most notably, there is no feminine element tonight, no backing singers or sultry swells of orchestration (perhaps understandable given the young nature and budget of the group), but anyone expecting it may have been disappointed. New song written “especially for this tour to get my set over 45 minutes”, ‘Human Style’ veers too close to Flight Of The Conchords territory (sample lyric: “We do it human style/In a human pile”).
There are plenty of moments of sheer unbridled excitement though. ‘One Of These Days’ is soaked in a dub bassline, the pedal steels adding a touch of perfection; ‘Big Love’ breaks down and builds again a la Roxy Music; a guesting section of horn players from Electric Soft Parade add real depth on the second half of gospel traditional ‘Gone Away’; the list goes on, and you’d have to say the good far outweighs the questionable.
Closing with the 10-minute, ‘Brazos’, the audience are actively whooping with joy by its close. “Come and chat to me afterwards,” White offers, “I’m very talkative, we might be here all night.” Like so much with Matthew E. White’s show tonight, you can take that two ways.
Audio, Tuesday 22nd January 2013
Words by Jake Kennedy