Amoeba, March 24
Jim White's songs depend on a good deal of atmosphere, and no doubt when he plays tonight (Tuesday) at the Silent Movie Theater, the ghosts of the venue's decades of mute comedies and tragedies will do wonders for his music. You should go see him play there if you can.
Monday night at Amoeba however, the room just isn't working in his favor. Some degree of harshness finds its way into White's voice that seldom appears on his records, and it sounds a little unsettling. Produced by Joe Pernice and Mike Deming of the Pernice Brothers (who also excel at catchy, whispery pop) White's new album, Transnormal Skiperoo, contains another dozen stories of sad people, small victories, bigger defeats and a good dose of philosophical musings.
If the translation of the songs to the stage isn't firing on all cylinders tonight, his stories still are. Between songs, White tells the story of a good friend of his, the son of a preacher, who married the daughter of another preacher, and despite all of that connection to a higher power, or because of it, he eventually lost his mind. On lithium and other brain candy, the two go to New York to see the Regis & Kathie Lee show. His friend had dated Gifford, whose last name had been Epstein and White had once kissed her. White said the conversation between his sick, drugged friend and Kathie Lee Gifford was one of the most surreal things he'd ever experienced. No doubt.
He talked about his song “If Jesus Drove a Motor Home” and how he really thought it was going to bring peace to the world, but to no avail. Well, he said, if Lennon couldn't do it with “Imagine”…
Maybe it's the light turnout. Despite some longtime championing by KCRW, the store only has 100 or so people turned out to watch him, mostly older white guys.
And it raises a question: How's a guy like Jim White get known to people who would probably dig his records, if they only knew about him? The implosion of the music industry has hurt labels more than artists, but it probably hasn't done guys like White many favors either. Marketing dollars dry up, and the selection of CDs at Starbucks isn't exactly deep.
No Depression magazine was an excellent place to read about musicians like Jim White, guys who weren't going to get added to enough radio playlists to seep into the minds of many Americans. But No Depression's gone now. So is Harp. Mojo seems content to just write about the Stones and Led Zepplin from now until the end of time.
It's one reason why I like to come to Amoeba to see live music. Instead of standing in a dark club with a beer getting warmer in my hand, I can flip through old albums and find something that maybe I didn't know about before, or had only read about in a music magazine. But the record stores keep closing, and the magazines keep folding, and I wonder if MySpace can really take up the slack.
I don't want to read too much into White's choice of venue for his show tonight. Instead of the Troubadour or even Largo where I first saw him play ten years ago, he's playing at a theater which shows movies that are about 80 years old; relics. Jim White and his music aren't relics. His songs will sound great in there, but I wish he was playing some place a little more, what's the word…. relevant?
You can listen to Jim White's new record, Transnormal Skiperoo online here. You'll probably like it.