Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Jim White, with Clive Barnes - Exeter Phoenix, 4th September, 2018

Lessons for When Two Storytellers Ignite

but also unite.

First lesson: never miss the support. If you did at last night’s Jim White gig you would have missed the opening slot of outstanding guitarist Clive Barnes who also accompanied White for his main set. As Barnes told us, and similar to as explained in an interview with The Independent way back in 2002, 'I am probably not a household name in my home county,' laughed world renowned guitarist Clive Barnes. That is sadly still the general case it seems – and I hold my hands up to that history – but not any more for me and every single person in the audience.

Second lesson: Clive Barnes is a stunning blues guitarist, lap slide and regular acoustic for his solo set; also a beautiful Gibson, and effects [the wonderfully haunting/plaintive with White]. I’ve seen my share of exceptional players over the years, and listened to recordings as well, obviously, and Barnes is up there with the best of them: hands down, or pouring over the neck with sublime clarity and blues emotion. 

He is a fine vocalist too, a gruff and confident accompaniment, and I am excited to begin my education in his back catalogue having been introduced to his excellence live.

Third lesson: Barnes is a storyteller [as is White] and with his Irish roots there is a healthy amount of the blarney in it all. My favourite last night was an account of his first tour of America, back in the day, and playing a gig in Wife’s Crack, Virginia at a venue called Dick’s Last Resort, ending in an encounter with a fan at the gig’s end who introduced his wife and daughter. No, I’m not going to tell the whole story – go out and hear for yourself [I suspect he will tell it again] – and no, Wife’s Crack, Virginia doesn’t exist, but there is a chain called Dick’s Last Resort who, according to Wikipedia, employ the most obnoxious staff, and this venue may have been a part of this or the original dive. He also, by the way, tells a great anecdote about him and Springsteen hanging out together in New York, if briefly.

Fourth lesson: Jim White is a storyteller too. His lengthy narratives are complex and amusing, much genuinely revealing his own troubled past [those tornados of the mind], much long drives to [on straight American roads] great punchlines, and all insights into a dislocated world both for him personally and the rest of us. No surprises here for those who have listened to the lyrics of his songs.

Lyrics like those from the opening song played, A Perfect Day to Chase Tornados,

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.

This is from White’s debut album Wrong-Eyed Jesus (The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted) which launched his career in 1997 with a musical shout that still resonates for those of us wakened by it then – and it seemed like most in the audience shared that revelation/witness.

One of the highlights for me last night was a performance of Objects in Motion, a poem really, delivered as a spoken narrative but bordered by a hypnotic and beautiful union of guitars, Barnes illuminating with that plaintive surround of echo and fade. White does write and performed other gorgeous songs, lyrical and pretty in the very best sense of that description, and these added last night to a full insight into his repertoire. Other memorable songs played were the upbeat Playing Guitars from White’s latest album, the 2017 Waffles, Triangles & Jesus, and the classic When Jesus Gets a Brand New Name from that great debut.

White’s constructed encore [that’s another story] was the beautiful Bluebird, written about and for his daughter, from the album Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You SeeObjects in Motion is from this too – and a further encore was the beautiful Still Waters in response to an audience member’s request, this again from White’s debut album.

Fifth and final lesson: if you can catch White, and with luck Banes as well, on this tour, do so. Try and see either or both whenever you can afterwards.

[Thanks to Harry and Kev for this treat]

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