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The Hot Press Newsdesk, 05 Feb 2013
It’s not completely apparent until his endearing chat at the death, but Matthew E. White is struggling tonight. One of the most interesting musical voices to have emerged in recent times, he’s strangely hushed throughout the entirety of his first date with Dublin, often overpowered by his able but not outstanding backing band. We’re cruising through an accomplished country-soul set without ever catching fire. And then the explanation – the bearded one is fighting through the ‘flu. A thermometer on his Instagram reads 38.2°C. Ouch.
It would seem even getting on stage was a Herculean task, almost an impossible one were it not for the tender care of an old friend. Having moved around quite a bit as a child, he recently told HP’s own Stuart Clark about a teenage girl he remembers fondly from the Philippines, now married to an Irish gent. Set on meeting her again then, he’s done just that pre-show, and apparently she’s nursed him back to some form of health. Essentially, she’s supplied him with drugs and got him to the gig on time.
We can only thank her. If the show is not completely transcendent, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday night out. White channels all those rootsy ‘70s influences and obvious adoration for Stax and Motown into something personal and fresh, deftly sidestepping the dangers of coming over like a kitschy facsimile. ‘Big Love’, his calling card at the moment, gets the biggest whoops, but he has a handful of songs that already sound like numbers of real vintage. ‘One Of These Days’ is a slow-burning shuffle that aches in all the right places, whilst ‘Brazos’ – the understated epic that draws his Big Inner debut to a close – is simply gorgeous. The extended ‘Jesus Christ is our lord’ coda gets everyone chanting in reverence.
That said, the Virginia singer does admit that the lovely ‘Human Style’ was penned for the express purpose of extending his live performance for European audiences, and it does feel like we’re watching a fledgling artist who’s yet to hit his stride. Coupled with the vocal ailment, it’s more a pleasant performance full of promise rather than one that will be remembered for years to come. We can but hope that he continues to take his medicine, continues to do what he does so well, and finds his way back to Irish shores soon.