Gig review: Jim White at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Jim White at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. Picture: Gary Brightbart
Jim White at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. Picture: Gary Brightbart
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Jim White is a born storyteller. He populates his southern gothic songs with characters who have complicated connections with god, damaged romantic relationships, and struggles with their mental health.

Yet whatever their personal demons they’re united by a sense of compassion and belief in the power of redemption.

It’s a cathartic introspection in which the former New York cab driver learns from the past and recognises to accept what can’t be changed. “When we’re young we yearn to know,” he reflects on the alt-country ‘Silver Threads’. “As we grow old we learn the precious weight of time…”

Stripped of the uplifting brass that lightens it on sixth album Waffles, Triangles & Jesus, the track becomes more rootsy with his three-piece backing band Cicada Rhythm. What he loses in sonic layers and studio experimentation - ‘Wonders Never Cease’, described by David Byrne as being ‘too weird to be on the record’, is here rendered fairly standard Americana - then he gains in focus.

Where previous tours have seen him performing solo with guitar and drum machine, he clearly enjoys being able to relinquish some control to the band. “This is going pretty well if you’ve been to one of my shows before,” he notes self-deprecatingly after guitarist David Kirslis tells him which pedal to use on the atmospheric ‘Drift Away’.

One of the few songs in the set that builds towards a rock climax, it’s nonetheless typical of his style of writing in being brooding yet melodic. Full of brushed drums, bowed upright bass and slide guitars, when there are alt-pop songs they tend to have a knowing touch of novelty about them (as with set opener ear-worm ‘Playing Guitars’).

It’s with his more heartfelt material that he really makes an audience connection, the downbeat ‘A Man Loves His Wife’ and ‘Corvair’ being Flannery O’Connor short stories summarised in three minutes and that best demonstrates his adage ‘life is long’. So it goes.

Sparks last performed in Leeds in 1975. Picture: Philippe Mazzoni

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