Saturday, May 18, 2013

No Longer A Big Inner

I have a not so hard and fast rule about avoiding multiple performances by a band or musician during the same album cycle. This is partly to keep my schedule from quickly spiraling out of control and partly to maintain a freshness in relation to their musical performance. It can be a little disappointing to discover that that spontaneous moment that levitated the audience was actually carefully calibrated. A concert that is less than completely satisfying, however, trumps the rule whenever possible. Back in the day, I saw Siouxsie & The Banshees three times over the course of a year, hoping for a performance as stunning as their records. Never happened, although one show was so stunningly loud that all I heard were overtones. For a week. Somewhere in my ears are some blackened goth hair cells - but that's another story.

White: Big Inner No More
In the case of Matthew E. White, when I saw him at Mercury Lounge last summer, it was one of his first gigs outside his hometown of Richmond,VA, and it showed in the sometimes tentative performance. Granted, White's stunning debut album, Big Inner, features layers of horns, strings and backing vocals, and serving the songs with a more stripped down ensemble took some doing. Percussionist Scott Clark was a canny choice to enrich the sound but he appeared a little out of his depth that night, and the sound mix on his instruments was not always effective. Still, I left the club with a warm glow and the firm expectation that a few months on the road was going to turn this group into a monster.

Stepping Right Along

I'm happy to report that my hopes became reality at the Bowery Ballroom last Tuesday when White and band returned after many dates in Europe and America. As I told him after the show, they did everything right. They stretched out further into the songs, increased the dynamic range, added a cover song (a gritty take on Waylon Jennings' Are You Ready For The Country) and two new songs, and just plain GELLED. Clark and drummer Pinson Chanselle played as one, providing a dense undercurrent of polyrhythms, and bassist Cameron Ralston proved himself the heart of the band, whether providing a deep groove or working the upper notes on the neck of his instrument. White ripped off guitar licks with the expected economy but less reticence than the last time I saw them. His laid-back voice showed a few more gears, although that could have been the steroids talking - White explained that a shot had brought his voice back from the brink. He also apologized for any surly behavior at the merch table caused by the side effects (he needn't have).
The band is filled out by Trey Pollard, who fills in the gaps on pedal steel, piano and guitar, and Gabe Churray, also known as Snow Panda, who adds layers of atmospherics and dubbed out sounds from behind a bank of keyboards and effects boxes. He may have been doing the same stuff last August, but it was only this time around that I thought, "This guy's gear is set on stun."

Snow Panda: Set On Stun

The only thing that didn't add up this time around is that the room wasn't jam packed. I'm expecting that will also be different next time.

The show was opened by Helado Negro, an affable enough guy with some bass-heavy programmed tracks and an okay voice. His sound seemed promising at first, but quickly grew tedious due to the lack of melodic variety. It's always hit or miss with opening acts...

Matthew E. White's tour continues - make sure you're aware of when he hits your area.

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