Thursday, May 08, 2008

Jim White/Vid Libert; May 8, 2008; Orpheum Stage Door

It’s difficult to say where Jim white fits in, too adventurous for folk, too smart for rock and too smart-ass for country; he seems to have almost fallen between the cracks. At first it doesn’t make any sense that he’s on David Byrne’s world music label Luaka Bop, but, you know, then again it does. The fact is he is one hell of an entertainer, too bad only a handful of people know it. A small but vocally appreciative crowd was scattered through the Orpheum Stage door’s odd space. I never know whether to stand up front or sit here; tonight they indicated sitting would be the preferred option by placing several rows of chairs in front of the stage. We took seats in the first row which was set some distance from the stage, but apparently still close enough that my white shirt was the only indication he had that there were any people out there at all.

He commented several times that his latest record was much happier than his previous efforts, and with a name like “Transcendental Skipperoo” you have to believe him. Much of the show concentrated on that record, which makes sense, once you have found happiness who wants to go back to being sad? The only downside of that is that my favorite record of his “No Place Else” is one of his darker ones, full of shady characters, double-crossing and murder. I wasn’t entirely disappointed, “Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi” did make the cut, as well as a brief snippet of the amusing “God Was Drunk When He Made Me.”

The latter was prefaced by what may have been his best story. Years ago he had played a festival where he ended up on the gospel stage (because of his “Wrong-Eyed Jesus” record he theorized) with several real gospel singers and Sleepy LaBeef. Now, he figured Sleepy would be cool with his brand of worship, but his response was unexpected. He told him that he shouldn’t play another song like that and wondered how he had fallen so far from god. Truth is, White has had many jobs and one of them was as a preacher, which goes a long way toward explaining the fire and brimstone of earlier records.

He recorded much of the new record with the band Ollabelle, and Fiona McBain from the band joined him on bass for this tour. Her lovely backing vocals matched well with his talking singing style. On guitar he had brought one of his old friends along, Pat Hargon, who usually spends his days as a school teacher. The three of them, along with White’s much-improved looping skills and a drum machine, did an excellent job of recreating the album’s complexities. White is truly an all-around entertainer, any one who sees him once is bound to be back again and again.

The audience was also treated to an opening set from local songwriter Vid Libert. After keeping a low profile for much of the last couple years, he has been popping up on higher profile bills lately. He has a following around town, but the $15 ticket price probably kept many of them from coming to the show. Tonight’s set again included Mike from yoga class (who has a real last name I’m sure, but until I learn it, that is what I am going to call him) on guitar and pedal steel. His electric work pairs nicely with Libert’s battered acoustic, and the steel makes his spare songs sound even more lonesome. Tracks from his recent “Return to Mayaquez” took up much of his thirty minute set, but a few new tracks, like the lovely “Twilight,” found their way in. The only true disappointment was that he ran out of time before playing his true-life lament “Custodian” which had been requested by Sleeping in the Aviary’s Phil Mahlstad who was bartending in the lobby tonight. He invited Phil over to his house for a private playing of the song, announcing his address from the stage. If only folks knew what a great song it was, most of tonight’s crowd would have been there.

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