This evening my good friend DJ Paul Wilson of the ‘Ears Wide Open’ programme on Radio Reverb called me and asked if I'd like to take up a spare ticket to see Matthew E White at the Audio bar down on the sea-front. My immediate reaction was [roughly translated] "Who He?" Paul informed me Matthew was a singer-songwriter - really not the best label to throw at me. I looked outside and saw that it was still snowing but something told me to go anyway - little anticipating having to walk there and back [well I guess the 2 to 3 mile walk worked off a few of the thousand or so calories gained from a coupla pints of Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer!] due to the he lack of buses.
Happily we arrived just as the support band 'Interlocutor' were warming up. They had a line-up not unlike that of bands of the ilk of Groove Armada - a 9-piece consisting of keyboards, guitarists, bass, drums, keyboards, sax and trombone. They started off with a couple of numbers which demonstrated that they could certainly play their instruments developing very acceptable[if somewhat similar and repetitive] grooves - the most noteworthy features however were that they lacked anything that was an obvious lead instrument and the [as far as I could tell] unremarkable vocals were pretty well lost in the mix. If I heard him correctly the frontman/vocalist did say however he'd got the band together in a hurry and wrote a few songs expressly to wheedle his way into offering himself as the support act for this gig - if this was in fact true I think my otherwise harsh critique here becomes invalidated and he deserves a medal for bare-faced cheek and blind faith! As far as the Groove Armada comparison goes I think it might have been the edition sunk by Drake in the Channel - they never really reached those dizzy heights, but again if the the band was as unpractised as we were led to believe this is probably too critical. They were certainly pleasant enough but at this stage of their career the 5 or so numbers they played were probably just enough to stop them becoming boring. The last song was probably the best - they at last become somewhat animated and indicated where they might be heading in terms of musical direction - and that seemed to be a sort of sub-[there's another nautical reference] Neil Young blockbuster before he develops the appropriate guitar riff.
Moving on.... Matthew E White and his band took the stage to find themselves facing a huge audience. Now, Brighton is the home of so many really good bands and so many good venues that it's not uncommon to find even quite well-known names performing for nothing in front of a couple of dozen people - so quite where all these folk who seemed so well-informed about this band came from on such a dreadful night I'm sure I don't know. It was after the first song - a typical taking-the-stage, testing-out-the-sound-balance sort of number, that I at last found out something about them. They hail from Richmond, Virginia and this is their first gig outside the USA. Although I couldn't see too well the line-up seemed to consist of Matthew on lead guitar and vocals, drums, bass, [pedal-?] steel guitar and keyboards all of which were all competently played, gelling together very well indeed. The obvious points of reference for comparison would seem to me to be country-rock-blues bands from the 60s- 70s era such as The Band, The Byrds, a little nod to the Grateful Dead - maybe even Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Once again the first couple of songs left one unsure why one had bothered trudging through tempest, earthquake and tsunami on a Tuesday evening but suddenly what had been pedestrian black-and-white burst into glorious Wide-Screen Technicolor and all was well with the world once again. This, I believe, occurred when the musicians had started relaxing, maybe letting go of some of their jet-lag or whatever and stopped merely repeating the well-rehearsed tunes by rote and bending their playing to suit the situation and the crowd they were encountering. Next, they took the brave step of inviting the horns section from Interlocutor, who they'd never encountered before this evening to come and join in one number ... and hey! presto - it worked!
I finally found out where the singer-songwriter reference originated from. Apparently it's been quite widely trailed in the press the Matthew had a strong connection with Randy Newman to the extent that he'd actually stalked him at one stage - a story which doesn't quite hold much more water than a sieve - but I'll leave you to find out about that elsewhere. Matthew did admit to having a lifelong admiration to the famed ditty-merchant and had tried to get in touch - not totally successfully. Anyway in the brief 2-song encore, the band did play one of Randy's tunes in his honour.
So an evening which started off with a deal of uncertainty about whether or not to go turned out to be a pretty-well unqualified success - very entertaining, quite unexpectedly so and well worth the walk out in the cold wet winter night.
Thank you Paul, Thank you Matthew and Thank you Brighton!