Matthew E White – The Thekla, Bristol (April 21, 2013)

Matthew E White’s signature story on stage is about his failed attempt to meet his hero Randy Newman. Armed with the address of his gated mansion in Los Angeles and a couple of his own CDs, White got as far as Newman’s maid, who promised to pass his music and a note on to the great man.

Matthew E White

Matthew E White

He’s still waiting for a response and in the meantime is spending his time creating marvelous, genre defying music in his native Richmond, Virginia, with the Spacebomb collective of musicians.

The Newman tale is a nice story and is part of an engaging and warm performance from White aboard Bristol’s legendary former fishing boat venue The Thekla. Tonight its hull was packed. No wonder, given White is touring his critically acclaimed debut album as a solo artist Big Inner, a mix of soul, country, funk and rock featuring brass, a choir and even disco strings.

Here the set was dominated by Big Inner tracks but this time as a bearded country rock five piece, with keyboards and slide guitar filling in for the horns and strings. While giving a different edge to Big Inner’s near perfect production, this arrangement, especially the keyboard wizardry, is still superb.

Big Inner track Steady Pace’s driving funk remains intact and White, resplendent in chunky knit jumper and gigantic beard, and the bassist even performed an excellent Shadows style guitar dance. Big Inner tracks Hot Toddies and Brazos groove was also far from hindered by the vintage sound of this guitar and keyboards live sound. Big Love, the album’s star track, was another to work well even without its album sheen.

Matthew E White

Matthew E White

A Newman song inevitably appeared, a tender version of Sail Away, and by the encore there was time to trail a new song Human Style, which was very much in the style of Big Inner and showing that White, whose brass arrangements brought to life The Mountain Goats’ most recent album Transcendental Youth, has far more than one remarkable solo album in his locker.

Before the set was over White was full of thanks for those that turned up, seemingly genuinely impressed that so many people are coming to his gigs to hear his tender songs. At the end he promised to be on hand at the merchandise stall, desperate to tell people more about The Spacebomb collective from Richmond that created Big Inner and this tour. “And if you are ever in Richmond, look me up, we’ll have dinner, go out for drinks, it’ll be fun,” White said. Coming from a man who was happy to saunter into Randy Newman’s mansion he seemed like he genuinely meant the invitation. Nicest guy in music? Possibly on this evidence.

By Joe Lepper


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