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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Roundhouse, August 5th 2008
You could easily get the impression that Jim White doesn’t want to be here. He wants to go home. He’s been in Europe ducking and diving between festivals, and he’s missing his little girls, accompanying guitarist and Fender maestro Patrick Hargon is also yearning for the company of his family back in the USofA. But the boys are back on a plane in the morning, leaving stand-in bass player, the Australian Christian Merry (well I think that’s what they called him) in London. Apparently, like most Australian bass players, he’s only missing getting to the pub for a few pints after the show.
We’re in the Roundhouse, and as it’s summer time and London’s mostly deserted (the rich folk having gone off to their Mediterranean gites and villas in search of the sun, and the less rich folks having headed off to hang out in Gatwick Airport for a fortnight) they’ve turned the main performance space into an intimate venue by hanging long black curtains (or drapes, for any of our North American readers) from the old cast iron pillars that form an enclosed circle in the middle of the space. But it’s hard to make this place intimate, especially when there’s a cavernous dome above your head, the crowning glory of this compact cathedral to nineteenth-century capitalism. But they’ve tried, and we’re sitting at round tables ordering rose wine from helpful waitresses as if there’s no tomorrow, which sadly it turns out there is.
It looks full. White looks over the audience and says, “I had a big crowd once before … and I screwed that one up too”. When he’s not reminding us of his homesickness White’s in expansive mood, and only just manages to squeeze thirteen songs in between his narratives and story-telling. Strangely, given just how engrossing White can be if you’re prepared to step into his world for a little while, this seems to grate with some of the audience. “More music” called out someone (according to a contribution on Mr White’s Forum the complainee was a “fat loud-mouth idiot at the back of the room”, but I couldn’t possibly comment), about half-way through the performance, as Jim is explaining the finer points of ”sceptimysticism”.
Transnormal Skiperoo This follows quite a lengthy discussion on “pessimistic optimism”, a “pre-emptive strike against fate” as Hargon describes it. We’ve also had a long story about Jim explaining to a girl in his cab that astral projecting was not a sin, some reflections on the condition of the United States (“people pay me to sing derisive songs about my country and I love it”), and perhaps inevitably some thoughts on evangelical Christianity in the southern states, prompted by an incident in a ice-cream (or was it snow-cone?) queue. “More talk” comes the riposte from others, gearing up for an edgy pantomime-style exchange. Before things get too heated, White calls time – “Sir, are you familiar with my oeuvre?”
The music’s good too. White plays an artful selection from his new album, Transnormal Skiperoo, mixed in with his hits. Merry’s bass-playing and singing is excellent, but Hargon’s understated guitar is quite excellent, adding both texture and depth to White’s music and lyrics. It’s hard to pick out the really good ones, but I might go for ‘Chasing Tornadoes’, about a youthful acid-fuelled encounter with an, err… tornado, ‘A town called Amen’, and the very funny and mildly topical ‘If Jesus drove a motor home’ (“Honking horns at the drive thru. Double-parking at the mall. Midnight at the Waffle House - Jesus eating eggs with ya'll”). ‘Take me away’ is a beautifully-crafted but most disturbing song about a suicide (where White deploys his vocal tape loops to great effect), and ‘Handcuffed to a fence in Mississippi’ is the song that still apparently has him banned from the State. ‘Still waters’ is just simply beautiful, and his final song, played solo on his banjo guitar after the band had left the stage and the curfew was over, was a spooky and chilling ‘Alabama chrome’.
I did say Jim White was going home, didn’t I? Well, to prove it he auctions off the bass amp just before the end of the show, and then walks off to meet his audience at the merchandise stall with bags of dirty laundry. It’s all up for sale. It’s then that I briefly lose sight of the Photographer, only to find her ten minutes later clutching a pair of Mr White’s jeans. Watch out e-bay – superstar trousers are coming your way soon. But just watch out for fakes. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Jim White's MySpace page
Kate's gig photo album Kate's photographs

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