Matthew E White cuts a strikingly slick figure as he takes the stage at the Roundhouse: he dressed up especially. Tonight he’s suited and booted, sporting a turtle neck beneath his grey threads, and his hair is swept back into a neat bun. He’s smooth, confident and looking every inch the master of ceremonies. From the offset there’s a sense of occasion in the room, and White’s at great pains to stress this is a special show – the final of the Fresh Blood tour – and one he intends to make count. And not for one moment of the evening does he renege on that promise.
Before we get to the man himself mention must be made of the superb and audaciously dubbed Deep Throat Choir who take the stage as support before the main event. Their innovative take on the choir format includes mainly contemporary pop tunes with imaginative arrangements and a resounding bass drum that brims with irresistible enthusiasm. Their rendition of Björk’s Stonemilker is a genuinely spine tingling moment and it’s a more than a promising opening to what will prove to be an absolute peach of a show and a watershed moment for White.
One Of These Days is the second song in and sets the tone for a joyous evening of rock and roll, soul and Stax style R n’ B of the highest order. Unlike the recorded versions of his songs, White regularly breaks from the quiet whisper he usually employs and pushes his voice to a pitch of real emotion akin to Justin Vernon abandoning his delicate falsetto. It gives his music a rich, more deeply felt and urgent quality that matches the scope of these songs.
The first of many guests this evening is newcomer Flo Morrissey, who joins White for Love is Deep. Unfortunately, perhaps the cavernous nature of the venue and the sense of event have overwhelmed her, because although she does a perfectly good job she seems a little uncomfortable and awkward. It’s distinctly at odds with both White and his band’s relaxed demeanour.
It’s a minor criticism and does little to dampen the spirit or the pace of the show. White rolls through a triumphantly administered Big Love and a touching version of Lee Hazelwood’s Wait and See. His band are supremely tight and with each track they up the ante to reach the evangelical pitch he is taking the evening to. It’s racked up another notch when Rebecca Taylor, of Slow Club, steps up to take lead vocals and the Deep Throat Choir are invited back to rip through a glorious cover of Fleetwood Mac’s You Make Loving Fun. White steps back to the side of the stage for a moment and gleefully looks on as his charges light up.
One of the most striking things about White is what a seductive performer he is. Many of his slinky, soulful, funky numbers are complimented by his quietly gyrating hips and understatedly alluring delivery. None more so that on the gig’s highlight, the recently released Cool Out. Natalie Prass, White’s high school friend and label mate on his own Spacebomb Records, is a tiny and fragile looking creature in comparison, and their combined vocals are an irresistible treat. The pair have a genuine chemistry that informs and shapes a song that is inherently flirtatious and beguiling. Cool out? Not a chance.
After a defiantly insistent call back from the crowd White and band return with the gentle Vision. But it’s the last two that are absolutely corkers. Prass comes back for her very own Why Don’t You Believe Me, and it’s impossibly gorgeous. Then White and band sign off with a victorious Feeling Good Is Good Enough. Damn straight Matthew E White, it is. And this was a much needed slice of feeling good in which he facilitated celebratory music with supreme talent, generosity and heart. A sublime way to put an undeniably shitty January to bed – with a smile. Bravo.