Live Review: Matthew E. White (with Bedouine) @ the Bullingdon
Only about five people were at The Bullingdon when I arrived. The sight of a totally empty Bullingdon was slightly bizarre, but the night was only going to get weirder.
Bedouine - whose website boasts of her "sixties folk meets seventies country-funk" sound - was incredible and really deserves a review of her own. Although the venue filled up as she played, the vibe was very intimate, just Bedouine (real name Azniv Korkejian) and a guitar. Her voice was absolutely unfaltering and her music simply perfect for such a relaxed setting. Korkejian was a charismatic performer, asking the audience what they dressed up as for Halloween – and even for suggestions for names for a new song – but her tone remains very calming and humble. Bedouine played a few songs from her self-titled debut album, revealing a powerful, atmospheric voice that never missed a note – her set sounded startlingly similar to her studio recordings.
After a graceful exit from Bedouine and some 10 minutes of interlude, Matthew E. White appeared. Immediately coming to the front of the stage to talk to the audience, the atmosphere still felt very intimate – more like a friend’s gig than seeing an artist with millions of plays on Spotify. This was where things began to get rather strange. White announced his intentions for the gig: he was going to play us a set of entirely new songs and we were going to judge them to see what went down well with the public. Someone handed out sheets and pens, as this gig began to seem more and more like some kind of school activity. Written at the top of the sheet was: “Hello and welcome. All of these songs are currently under consideration for my next record. I’m doing this tour to get them out in the open, where songs can really live and breathe”. Following was a list of each song, with the options ‘good’, ‘bad’, or ‘neutral’. At this stage I felt immensely disappointed – I had paid to see Matthew E. White perform his songs that I know and love, and the night was beginning to feel increasingly like I was just doing a friend a favour. White has two albums and an EP behind him, as well as a recent collaboration with singer Flo Morrissey, so a set of entirely new songs seemed something of a con.
“This was where things began to get rather strange. White announced his intentions for the gig: he was going to play us a set of entirely new songs and we were going to judge them to see what went down well with the public. Someone handed out sheets and pens, as this gig began to seem more and more like some kind of school activity.”
However, I decided to embrace the spirit of the night. The set was surprisingly challenging – sitting through eleven entirely new songs and being expected to really listen to them is harder than you might think, especially as some of the songs simply weren’t that good. White, whose distinctive style comprises rock, soul and jazz, is clearly trying to experiment, to play with and test his accepted style: his first two albums largely consist of fairly slow songs, often about love, sometimes with a slight gospel influence. He ventures into little-explored subject grounds, with two of the songs being about American politics. The gospel also comes through a lot more clearly on his new material. White prefaced his set by telling us that he was going to play us the songs “exactly how [he] wrote them”, sitting at an electric keyboard with a drum machine, but when trying to experiment with new influences this often seemed to distort the sound and detract from what could be an exciting new direction for his music. There were some moments of soulful intimacy similar to his previous albums, particularly with the song ‘Shine a Light’, which seemed to be a favourite among the audience, but often such intimacy and atmosphere were lost by the fact that the gig felt like we were seeing a band in a school assembly.
The experience was new and interesting and I will be interested to see White’s new music when it comes out. But this kind of ‘gig’ is not something that I can see myself participating in regularly from now on – it was an interesting new experience, but in some ways I regret that White didn’t just play us some old favourites.