Matthew E. White Showcases Spacebomb Records at Strange Matter
I stepped into Strange Matter by myself that night to see Matthew E. White and the Spacebomb Orchestra. By myself, because there is no feeling more acutely awkward than bringing a well-intentioned friend to a show they don’t really care about while worrying about whether or not they’re actually enjoying the show. Strange Matter because it’s where I, the audience, and the band agreed to meet on that particular night.
I had seen Matthew E. White play before, the previous November, roughly 13 months ago at the Camel. The band’s first show (as far as I knew, at least) since releasing the stunning Big Inner whose sounds had dominated my Fall. The band started shaky but fell into a groove, while White’s understated vocals felt ever so slightly unsure of themselves, the band never truly locked in. The arrangements were recreated, occasionally expanded on, but they never transcended, though they got close on set ender “Brazos”. A good show to be sure, but a band that was clearly still learning to play with each other.
This night felt different. A year of intense touring later, the band (who played for both Matthew E. White and opener Howard Ivans, also of Spacebomb Records) kicked into a hypnotic groove to start the show, and the new vigor radiated from the stage. The rhythm section was electric, Cameron Ralston’s bass slithered through webs of snare hits, harmonizing with the swaying guitar lines at one moment, pulsing with the kick drum the next. This was not the same band. When Howard Ivans finally emerged on stage to take the frontman’s role he did so with a grateful smile, as enraptured by the band as we in the audience were. His songs emerged from a slinky funk strut, a base where he unleashed both soaring ballads and funk breakdowns alike. A solid opening set that was over rather quickly, the band exited the stage, and we were left to wait.
When the band finally reappeared Matthew E. White (who had been playing second guitarist in the last set) took his spot at the front of the stage. From the first line you could hear a new sense of confidence in White’s voice that was lacking before. The softly spoken tones that worked so well on the record were replaced with projection that showcased the nuances of his voice while better suiting his occasionally raucous band. And speaking of the band. Though White’s songs tend towards richly detailed yet quietly contemplative, in a live setting that aesthetic was thrown out the window in favor of a truly powerful yet nimble rhythm section. Drummer Pinson Chanselle was a monster, unloading otherworldly fills one after another, nearly leaping from behind his set at times. The unlikely comparison that most came to mind was The Roots, another group well versed in R&B, funk, jazz, and rock history that turns into a groove juggernaut on stage.
Matthew E. White led his bandmates through just about every song in the catalog (plus a cover that may have been a Creedence Clearwater Revival song). The tracks from the Outer Face EP were a particular surprise. Arranged on record without any guitar, keys, or horns, White was freed from such restrictions live and powered them with crunchy rhythm guitar while Chanselle pounded the backbeat. Though I missed the opposing choirs in “Signature Move” the beefed up sound more than made up for it. And that turned out to be the theme of the night. Whatever you were expecting from this band, they turned it on its head and gave you something even more compelling. Their growth as musicians and as a band in such a short amount of time is astounding and I left Strange Matter thrilled to see where they go next.