Who: Matthew E. White
Where: The Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
When: June 3rd 2013
Having been introduced to the world of Matthew E. White via an article in ‘Uncut’, as well as reading glowing reviews of his debut album ‘Big Inner’, I was intrigued when this Vivid festival sideshow was first announced. I’d also just recently read a positive review of his debut Irish performance, in renowned Dublin venue Whelans, so I decided to venture out and witness him live myself, on what was a fairly nippy evening.
With tonight’s edition of the weekly Monday Night Mass gig being put on hold to cater for this evenings gig, it was nice to see that White had put together a wonderful little tour programme, which was studied while I waited for the venue doors to open. When they did about 30 minutes later then scheduled, there was only about 20 people in attendance for the start of support act Ross McLennan’s set. He was in no way put off by the lack of a turnout however, as he chatted away in between songs, while informing us, that if we wanted to buy any of his music, tonight wouldn’t be the night to do so, as he’d left all his merchandise at home! Knowing nothing about the guy beforehand, he appeared on stage with only an electric guitar for company.
Instinctively, if not quite naively, I thought, was this going to be some kind of Billy Bragg-esque performance? Which let it be said wouldn’t have bothered me that much in the slightest! Instead I heard slight tinges of the White Duke’s vocal style dotted throughout his set, none more prevelant than during “Clarity”. “Sheila Remembers” I felt, would have slotted quite easily onto Frank Black & the Catholic’s rather excellent ‘Dog In The Sand’ record, while “Get This” was an upbeat sounding pop gem. A friend of McLennan’s joined him on stage, just past the set’s halfway point, and as a result added a bit of extra zest into the equation, via the clarinet and sax. This led to a ramshackle type, jazz sounding, rock’n’roll jamboree – if you will – in the form of “My Brother Stoats”. He is a performer whose catalogue I will be investing some time in and one I’d definitely like to see again, but with perhaps a full backing band in toe.
The crowd swelled pretty rapidly thereafter, and gave a warm reception to Matthew E. White and his five cohorts; Scott Clark – percussion, Pinson Chanselle – drums, Cameron Ralston – bass, Gabe Churray – keys and Trey Pollard – piano & pedal steel, as they took their places on stage. Even before a note was struck, it seemed as though the six piece were in the mood for evolving the songs that appear on White’s debut record ‘Big Inner’. They kicked straight into a wonderful swirly sounding and head bobbing version of “Will You Love Me”, which is his ode to the effect that said feeling/romance can have you. White’s soul infused hushed tones, were evident throughout “One of Those Days”, with the band for the most part, holding back during the – Jack Johnson sounding – track, however about three quarters of the way through White lets rip with his guitar, bringing an added dimension to the song. Up next was “Steady Pace”, which rather ironically led to the more prominent funky rhythms and rockier elements – particularly Chanselle’s pounding on the drums – of the group coming to the fore.
Churray’s key playing ability added to their take on Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country?”, which breathed a bit of new life to Shakey’s familiar classic. A brief pause in the music occurred, as White explained how happy he was to find out there was a Richmond area over this side of the world, due to fact that he and his colleagues were from Richmond, Virginia. This he went on to say, led him to taking a tour of the MCG as he wished to learn some AFL history, which in turn made it all the more clear as to why he had adopted a Richmond jersey for the show! The crackingly catchy “Big Love” came next, with Clark’s percussion – a mix of shake box, tambourine and bongos – taking centre stage, and being pretty damn hypnotic for the most part.
“Human Style” with its slow drum leading intro, was the first of two new numbers played, while the opening few lines from White sounded a bit like his namesake Barry! To me though it wasn’t that strong of a track, and seemed to just go through the motions, without detracting too far from the ‘Big Inner’ penned songs. Next up was a Randy Newman cover “Sail Away”, which was preceded by the story of how White more or less kind of stalked the famed singer songwriter in L.A.! Having not ever seeked out any of Newman’s music before, I have no idea how close the band’s execution came to the original, or if it in fact took on a whole new life of its own! The second new track “If You Need Me” followed next, but all I can remember about it is the feedback, mainly due to the fact I was drinking me beer and not taking notes for that one. Apologies Matthew.
The second last song of the evening was the rather poignant “Gone Away”, that focussed mainly on softly softly approach to drumming, with some more tambourine thrown in for good measure. Whether it has religious connotations or is about a friend, lover or family member who has passed away, I’m in no way sure, but it got the toe tapping none the less. “Brazos” brought the curtain down on this evenings proceedings, and like most of the tracks that preceded it, began in rather quiet terms. It was here that I hoped the song would kick into life at some stage, as it would have been a shame to have ended on a downbeat note, especially as the band showed numerous times tonight what it is capable of. Alas I shouldn’t have worried, as half way through the ten minute finale, it burst into a rambling crescendo of noise, with each musician showing their undoubted talent until the end, which included White himself bellowing out “Jesus Christ is our Lord/Jesus Christ he is your friend” over and over! Then it was all over, and as the performers left the stage, to resounding applause, I knew I had made the right decision, to observe them live.