This is Matthew E. White though not perhaps as we have ever seen him before. He is here in York tonight on the fourth stop of an 18-date tour of the UK and Ireland, not with his customary full band but instead flying solo. Still working on material for his forthcoming album, he is taking time out from that process to try out some of these “works in progress” in a live setting and in a series of smaller, more intimate venues.
Strictly speaking, the 35 year old musician, producer, arranger and founder of the revered Spacebomb Records from Richmond, Virginia is not entirely alone. He has alongside him Alan Parker, long-standing guitarist from his Spacebomb house band, and for a couple of numbers at the tail-end of his set he also has some great vocal accompaniment from two invited audience members and Andy Jenkins, fellow Virginian and principal support act on the early part of this tour who had earlier put in a most charming and compelling performance of great promise.
But nonetheless, this is a bold, experimental move on Matthew E. White’s part choosing to perform a bunch of songs that are still at an early developmental stage in their creative lives and without the comparative safety net of a full band. White clearly sees this dynamic between musician and listener as a two-way street and with this very much in mind at every show on this tour and before he starts to play he circulates a simple feedback form to members of the audience. On it, they are asked to rate each song that he performs at that particular venue. By way of return, Matthew E. White promises that once the record is completed he will return to each town and city on this tour and play a recording of the final studio versions before anyone else gets chance to listen to these fully realised songs.
The guitar would be Matthew E. White’s live instrument of choice, but here he chooses to play all of these new songs – 11 in total – exactly as he had written them, on an electric piano and with a simple drum machine accompaniment. Alan Parker’s guitar adds further texture to this new material, material that sees White lean even further towards the classic late 60’s/ early 70’s Southern soul influences of his youth.
The glorious shuffling beat of opener ‘Despite A Genuine Hesitation’ brings to mind the more soulful side of early Boz Scaggs. “If the band is playing, keep it gentle. Because I am a gentle man” sings White, the wonderful intonations in his voice highlighting both his tenderness of touch and the deep understanding he clearly has of what is the human condition.
‘Hedged In Darkness’ is imbued with even greater emotional heft by the beautifully understated delicacy of Alan Parker’s bottleneck slide and the half sung-half spoken words of ‘Fell Like An Ax’ conjure up warm thoughts of Allen Toussaint and New Orleans. ‘Shake Me’ is the song that he had jokingly hoped would make an appearance on Jessie Ware’s new album, but the best song of the entire evening surely has to be ‘This Is America’.
Inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, ‘This Is America’ reflects the dark days that Matthew White’s home country are now experiencing. He feels compelled to apologise for his “shitbag of a President” and the shame, embarrassment and anger he feels translates readily to the song as it ramps up from its Nina Simone-inspired gospel roots to a magnificent soulful crescendo.
‘Find Your Orange To Squeeze’ sees White moving into Marvin Gaye–Here My Dear territory, his falsetto croon creating almost Zen-like moments of calm amongst the song’s fundamental sense of yearning. For ‘I’ve Never Had It Better’ and ‘You’re Electric’ he invites people from the crowd to join him on backing vocals and both Ben and Amy duly oblige. These are wonderful, intimate moments and reinforce White’s firm belief of the interactive dynamic that exists between performing musician and active listener.
Matthew E. White bids a most fond farewell to York with the raunchy swagger of ‘Youth’s Cathedral (J-U-D-Y)’. It has been an incredibly brave step by him in exposing himself to such intense creative and professional scrutiny by performing completely new songs in their most embryonic form. But as an experiential exercise in deep mutual engagement, satisfaction and enjoyment it has been an absolutely unqualified success.
Photo Credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE
Remaining dates on this tour:
21 Oct – Newcastle – Think Tank º
22 Oct – Kendal – The Brewery Arts Centre º
23 Oct – Leicester – The Musician Pub º
24 Oct – Leamington Spa – Zephyr Lounge º
25 Oct – Cardiff – Clwb Ifor Bach º
27 Oct – Falmouth – Arts Centre ▴
28 Oct – Southampton – The Joiners ▴
29 Oct – Bath – Komedia ▴
30 Oct – Ramsgate – Ramsgate Music Hall ▴
31 Oct – Brighton – The Haunt Brighton ▴
01 Nov – Oxford – The Bullingdon ▴
02 Nov – Dunlaoghaire – Pavilion Theatre ▴
03 Nov – Galway – Roisin Dubh ▴
04 Nov – Limerick – Dolans Pub Upstairs ▴
05 Nov – Cork – Cypress Avenue ▴
º w/ Andy Jenkins
▴ w/ Bedouine