With the room still echoing from applause for the opening set of gravely blues and stunning slide and acoustic guitar picking by Clive Barnes, Jim White is already perched centre stage and eager to get down to business. "Are we ready to start yet," he asks, "because I’ve a lot to say." It’s a welcomed return to Dublin for the rare talent that is Jim White, singer, songwriter, raconteur and overall entertainer. He possesses a genre all of his own, probably yet to be defined and has been visiting Ireland for many years to audiences that ‘get him’. "First time I played Whelan’s I had five songs, no more. Audience said that’s cool just keep playing them over and over again." Promoted by Rollercoaster Records, tonight is the first night of a six date Irish tour and it’s heartening to see a great turn out.
Decked out in western shirt and Levi’s, the former male model, taxi driver, comedian and surfer proceeds to deliver a set that lasts an hour and three quarters yet seems to pass by in a flash. In customary fashion, each of White’s songs is preceded by a story (often taking longer than the song itself!) and the set list includes a trawl through his extensive back catalogue together with material from his latest album, due for release later this year. Accustomed to more than often playing solo these days with only his drum machine ("my trusty Japanese drummer") for company, the contribution of Clive Barnes on guitar brings the experience to another level entirely, more than recreating the studio atmosphere so integral to White’s work, no mean achievement considering the pair had only rehearsed for a few hours the previous day. The relaxed chemistry and interaction generated by both artists certainly would suggest otherwise. "The promoter told me this guy would drive me around and maybe play a bit of guitar as well, Jesus he is awesome, loves his music too! Joy to be on stage with him, I’d almost do it for nothing ... I said almost!"
Alabama Chrome, given a slightly varied treatment than the studio version, opens the set followed by The Wound That Never Heals ("a great lady serial killer song, too many man serial killer songs, had to set that right") before continuing the dark country noir theme with the first of a number of songs from his latest work titled Wash Away The World. Next up is his "one big hit" Handcuffed To A Fence in Mississippi which introduces his Japanese drummer and some powerful chunky guitar work by Barnes. Burn The River Dry follows with an accompanying tale of how the song was conceived while working as a taxi driver in New York, being jilted by a girlfriend and left stranded having blagged his way into renting accommodation for them both in Brooklyn, way beyond his financial means.
An account of tripping on LSD in his younger days as a surfer on a beach in California with a friend explains the origins and is the lead in to A Perfect Day To Chase Tornadoes, before a flawless version of Jailbird , one of the many highlights of the night.
Weighing in at a lengthy six minutes and thirty-four seconds Still Waters is introduced as his ‘bathroom song’ as White articulates how a Louisville Radio Station was playing the song regularly, to his surprise, when it was released. So much so that he was encouraged to visit the station to offer his appreciation. The reaction of the lady DJ when he proudly owned up as the writer of the song was "wow awesome, its six minutes thirty-four seconds long, I can get to the bathroom and back when its playing.’’
Hilarious tales are also recounted of upsetting, to put it mildly, some seriously right wing conservative Canadian bluegrass players and American rockabilly player Sleepy La Beef by performing God Was Drunk When He Made Me on stage in their company at a festival. If Jesus Drove A Motorhome and A Bar Is Just A Church Where They Serve Beer follow on a similar irreverent path before encores of the intoxicating Girl From Brownsville Texas and a moving new song written for his daughter, with a tear in his eye, called Sweet Bird Of Mystery.
It’s a joy to witness Jim White in such good form and at the top of his game. Hats off to promoter Willie Meighan for having the foresight to arrange the tour and introduce him to Clive Barnes. Hopefully this won’t be the last time these two appear on stage together in Dublin.
Review and photography by Declan Culliton