Giving us something we didn’t know we wanted, Getintothis’ Neal McGrath watched Matthew E.White playing a different, unexpected game in Bold Street’s Leaf.
“Where’s your brass section?” heckled one disgruntled punter a few songs into Matthew E. White’s Saturday night set in Leaf. A fair question perhaps if you’re familiar with Matthew’s two records. Sultry 70s style soul is the order of the day, warm brass, strings, gospel piano chords and walls of backing vocals are what brought most of us here but White isn’t playing ball.
“Ugh, it’s a funny story” he replies before holding his electric guitar up slightly and quietly asking “do you not like this?” His tone is part dejected, part incredulous and part mocking – how can you not like this?
Some people talk shit indeed.
Matthew E. White and his band are here in stripped down form. Just two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer. Strings, brass and professional backing vocalists are long forgotten. The gig becomes a guitar players dream. They fill the gaps with the glorious sound of Fender amps on the edge of break-up, playing beautiful soul licks that are the very definition of less is more.
The influences are clear – Steve Cropper and Curtis Mayfield to name but two. Think the players Hendrix was digging before he created Little Wing and Castles Made Of Sand. The sound is tight, tough and abrasive. The rhythms are driving and percussive, reminiscent of The Velvet Underground’s The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes. We half wished we had brought our tape recorder.
The band were not afraid to stretch out and jam. Songs got lengthened as the band let themselves go, speeding up and racing towards the end of the tunes, bringing to mind the rave-ups of 60s bands like The Yardbirds, ramping up the excitement levels and bringing ecstatic applause from the audience and knowing smiles from the group. They even broke into a spot of synchronised guitar dancing for the audience’s (or perhaps their own?) amusement.
Big Love is a highlight, heavy dueling guitar riffs, driving bass and reverb soaked twang that would have been the highlight of any Tarantino film.
Not everyone was quite so enthusiastic however – there was a little too much talking over the songs from the crowd at times. Also, Matthew’s vocals, as hushed and delicate as they are could be lost in the mix and drowned out by the wall of sound.
This raw unexpected guitarathon was hugely exciting and exposed more of Matthew E. White’s talents, not just as songwriter and composer but as a musician as well. It’s something the world needs to hear more of. Live album anyone?
Pictures by Getintothis’ Tom Adam.