September 15, 2018
“That’s the end of the death portion of the show” chirped Jim White after five of his 15 songs. Maybe the ‘death’ section of the show has finished but White has had a troubled life and in this couple of hours you get a tour through his taxi driving, homelessness, depression, failed marriages and then his emergence into the sunnier uplands through not least the joy of his daughters.
A rapt audience of around 100 are holding onto every word as he recounts this personal journey between songs. He is a storyteller. The sublime virtuoso Clive Barnes accompanies him on electric or acoustic guitar adding atmosphere to White’s wry, observational, seldom judgemental, and brutally honest confessional musings.
“A Perfect Day To Chase Tornados” from his 1997 Wrong-Eyed Jesus albumis met with delight as the gathering discover that White is about to revisit some of his most cherished songs. The complex lyrics illustrate that you are in the company of a thoughtful yet often conflicted craftsman:
“Sometimes I think that the sky is a prison and the earth is a grave.
And sometimes I feel like Jesus, in some Chinese opera.
And sometimes I’m glad I built my mansion from crazy little stones.
But sometimes I feel so goddamned trapped by everything that I know.
And I wish it wasn’t so, cause the only thing that anyone should ever know
Is that today’s a perfect day to chase tornados.
Yeah, when the wild wind whips around your head you know,
That you have found a perfect day to chase tornados. To rapturous applause he quips that the song was ‘wrote before I was a rock star.”
Sat still with the guitar on his lap we work through songs off five different albums, with five coming from his 2017 release: Waffles, Triangles & Jesus.Torn between poet and raconteur we have asides about the commercial success (or not) of his releases.”Objects In Motion” he declares come from the album “that ended my career” – Drill A Hole In A Substrate. With relish he advises that the song was probably the least popular track on the album “judging by the meagre couple of cents I get from royalties then it had two plays, probably, in Namibia and Iran”. However when the laughter subsided we had a haunting and atmospheric song sung and half spoken.
Highlights are many but “Wound That Never Heals” about a female serial killer spins you off kilter. The story is dark with murderas its main theme. I suppose against the backdrop of White’s mental challenges then you never quite know where the fiction or autobiography might collide. “Silver Threads” from his latest album recounts the difficult parting from a girlfriend of four years after initial promises of marriage. However, don’t be glum “she’s happy now with a Norwegian!” “Bluebird” off the album “that ended his career” starts with the matter of fact declaration that he conceived a child with a woman he disliked and with fragile vulnerability and bleak loneliness he sings about the daughter:
“Bluebird on a telephone line
How are you? I’m feeling fine
Sweetly do I whisper your name
Lonely solo taxi ride to a cheap motel”
Before a sentimental closer he sang “Christmas Song”, the most autobiographical of his songs. Marooned in a Greyhound bus station on December 25th1998 after his transportation broke down. At this time separation from his child is the most agonising and the scatter of words spill out his pain, anguish and the realisation that he is in many ways a mess and maybe he’s the problem.
If you haven’t caught him then you must. He is a one-off: capable of stories, vivid images of America, delicate yet compelling melodies and an interpretive (yet never hurried) delivery that is like no other.