Thekla, Bristol

Simon Price on Matthew E White: A happy-clappy guilty pleasure for the yacht-rock crew

4.00

 

The fact that Matthew E White resembles the baby Jesus – that is, if you superimposed the adult Christ's facial hair on a giant baby – has doubtless encouraged the enthusiasm with which he is, in some quarters, being hailed as a new messiah. The 30-year-old Virginian is a bespectacled and benign presence, like Mama Cass with a ZZ Top beard. And his debut album, bearing the dreadful, punning title Big Inner, sounds like the work of a man who bypassed youthful things and headed straight for the music the grown-ups were listening to in 1976 while the kids were getting punked and discoed.

White's mix of gently funky country- pop, Muscle Shoals soul and what is nowadays known as "yacht rock", belongs in a world of Johnnie Walker's Radio 2 shows, mirrored aviators and open-necked denim. It's The Magic Numbers without the women. But that's still pretty good.

It feels tailor-made for Sean Rowley's Guilty Pleasures franchise, right down to the white suit thatWhite wears in photos. The most modern his music gets is the Roses/Charlatans-ish single "Big Love". Yet it's oddly in tune with post-millennial dance music. Songs are never in any hurry to end – there's always a maracas shakedown to heighten the dynamic – and when you catch what he's mumbling, a dry sense of humour emerges. "This is a drinking song, which is perfect for a Sunday night, right?" There's a lovely story about White's failed attempt to stalk his hero Randy Newman at his gated Hollywood mansion. And he and his bassist carry off some pleasing synchronised moves with their instruments, like a junior Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch.

The set, like the album, culminates with a repeated refrain of "Jesus Christ is our Lord/Jesus Christ is our friend", a worryingly happy-clappy moment – like a previously agreeable dinner party guest asking if you've heard the Good News – which seems less preachy the following morning when he explains to Lauren Laverne that the song is written from the point of view of black slaves escaping from the South to the North.

If the world were full of Matthew E Whites, we'd be in trouble. And if White's Spacebomb collective – the mini-Motown stable he's building in his hometown of Richmond – takes off, that may yet come to pass.

Wilton's Music Hall, birthplace of the Champagne Charlie character in Victorian times, scene of Britain's first cancan and almost certainly a haunt of the victims of Jack the Ripper, is being restored without losing any of its decayed glamour. A bit like Marc Almond (*****) himself, in fact, survivor of several near misses with mortality.

If venue and singer are a perfect fit, then so are singer and material. Ten Plagues, written by Mark Ravenhill and Conor Mitchell, is a song cycle set amid the Great Plague of London in 1665, as seen by a periwigged burgher who, as the epidemic grips the city, loses his gay lover and, eventually, his mind. Almond, no stranger to themes of squalor, insanity and disease – he once wrote a song called "(Your Love Is A) Lesion" – has always relished acting out dramas in song, ever since Soft Cell's "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye".

A one-man show, accompanied only by Mitchell's piano and some innovative projections, it is musically complex and, one imagines, a challenge for a man who struggled to remember his own lyrics after suffering an almost fatal motorbike accident in 2004. Almond passes the test with panache.

It's moving, thought-provoking and allusive to contemporary contagions (Ravenhill is HIV-positive), and seeing it inside a building erected within the lifespan of plague survivors, on the very streets it affected, adds to its power. It ranks, alongside albums such as Untitled, Tenement Symphony and Heart On Snow, as one of the crowning achievements of Almond's post-Soft Cell career.

Critic's Choice

Yeah Yeah Yeahs promote their comeback album Mosquito at the Apollo, Manchester (Wed), Academy, Leeds (Thu) and All Tomorrow's Parties at Alexandra Palace, London (Sat). Meanwhile, rising Scottish electropop band Chvrches play Village Underground, London (Mon), Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (Tue), and Sound Control, Manchester (Wed).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee