Photos By Miranda Hontz, Words By Leon Hontz
Two Richmond, VA bands gathered Saturday evening at DC9 for the final performance of Matthew E. White’s tour. Sleepwalkers (named, I hope, after the 1992 Stephen King movie masterpiece) and Matthew E. White are both guitar centric acts that weren’t afraid to get loud and jam.
Sleepwalkers put on a wildly fun performance, pouring ounces of sweat and energy into their eclectic songs. The music of Sleepwalkers has an inherent familiarity, the result of the bands versatility in producing quality songs which float between multiple genres. Yacht-rocky R&B and pulsing rock music appear, sometimes in the same song, offering everyone in the audience something to love. Sleepwalkers reels you in with their tight pop numbers before letting their instruments steal the show on the louder party jams. The band is built around a solid core of musicians that are occasionally jammy but do well to splice this tendency into their songs in a way that avoids the overbearing qualities of jam music. Sleepwalkers let loose during their performance, and while it didn’t consist of anything particularly exceptional or unique their set still made for a great time.
Matthew E. White is a talented guitarist and composer whose songs take on a completely different sound when performed live. Gone are the layered vocals, horns, and slow grooves to be replaced with raging guitars and an arresting dynamism. White’s songs are complex in their measured meandering amongst various themes and tones and seeing these songs performed live is undeniably impressive. Each song is a slow fuse leading to explosive instrumentals lead by the guitars of White and Alan Parker who are backed by a reliable, though unremarkable, rhythm section.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the performance, the original variety of White’s music started to become formulaic and predictable. The songs followed a common model: slow start, crescendo, change in theme, back to the original theme, jam, slow fade of original theme. Of course there were deviations, but not frequently enough to improve the stale quality that this gave the show. White’s live show is also vacant of the smooth and sexy elements that are present in his studio recordings. The bands tendency to get loud has the effect of drowning out White’s soft vocals and the distortion and volume of the guitars have a tendency to wash out the finer instrumentation. Unfortunately, this results in a live show that either loses or diminishes many of the most essential elements of White’s music that no amount of noise or dynamism can replace.
Ultimately, both Matthew E. White and Sleepwalkers had the crowd at DC9 shaking and screaming (in a good sense). While Sleepwalkers lacked any stand-out qualities, they were intrinsically fun and possessed a captivating energy. Sleepwalkers is the jam band that I wish I lived next door to (no offense to the jam band that I do live next door to) and I would recommend their show to anyone looking for a guaranteed good time. Fans of Matthew E. White’s studio recordings should expect a bit of a departure for his live performance. Still, if you can get passed the loss of the smoother elements that are traded in for a rougher and heavier sound, there is plenty of talent and craftsmanship on display to make for a compelling show.