Thursday, 31 January 2019

REVIEW: John Paul White - Night And Day Cafe, Manchester

In 2011 The Civil Wars debut album was gathering some serious momentum. Released in February to unanimous acclaim it earned the duo, formed by John Paul White and Joy Williams a slot supporting Adele on her US tour. Fans of Adele must have just been feeling the effects of the Prosac, which is presumably handed out gratis at the beginning of Adele gigs, as The Civil Wars unleashed their unique brand of what one critic called “Gothic-folk”, so I can only imagine the mind-bending trip through the bayou that the crowds were taken on during this support slot. They toured small venues later that year and it was at Night And Day in September 2011 that I saw The Civil Wars live. They were on fine form that night; all rich harmonies, soulful country acoustic and sexual tension so electric that none of us could look each other in the eye afterwards, instead fanning ourselves with all the embarrassed fluster of Edwardian dowagers. Two years, four Grammies and a second album later, The Civil Wars had split. Leaving behind a pair of enigmatic apologies citing irreconcilable differences and then a wall of silence.

Tonight, John Paul White returned to Night And Day, debuting material from his new album ‘The Hurting Kind’, his third album since The Civil Wars split. Supported ably by Lyla Foy, who played a handful of songs which had an ephemeral, dreamy quality, but quickly became indistinguishable from one another. She has a beautiful voice, and this was notably evident in her opening song and a her last two, but it was hard to find any hooks or enduring melodies in her live work, though there was enough to warrant me giving her rather good album ‘Mirrors the Sky’ a go as I write this.

At twenty past nine my wife had enquired if a technician, who was on stage at the time, was our act for the evening. I assured her that she’d remember who he was and tried to describe him to her. “He’s like a tall, more handsome Captain Jack Sparrow who has made an effort.” I said, but my wife still didn’t remember. When John Paul White arrived on stage moments later, wearing his customary sharp suit, she said “Oh yes.” in a breathy, knowing tone that Kathleen Turner would have been proud of “I remember him.”. One can hardly blame her; I have a man-crush and I am not ashamed.

White began with a song that immediately showed off his range, effortlessly switching between soft gentle verses and a powerful chorus that, as it carried through the room, you noticed not a single imperfection in his voice. What a singer he is; with such control over his voice that we were instantly drawn in. The large audience were mature and clearly avid fans of his music; Respectfully listening without any need to hold a phone aloft all night. Once some noisy simpletons finally went out back to collect their coats, I noticed that White’s ballads had reduced his fans to complete silence. They were hung upon his every word and you could hear a pin drop, both during the quieter moments of his mournful songs and whilst he chatted to the crowd with great humour to add context to some of his lyrics.

White showcased his new songs, which were striking in their simplistic beauty and lyricism. The new album will be very good indeed if this is anything to go by. His voice, controlled and sliding through notes with a country inflection is captivating, whilst his guitar playing draws a rich sound from a single acoustic guitar. By the end of the night I was longing for a change of tempo or timbre, with most of the set being sparsely finger-picked ballads, despite there being some more meaty, mid-tempo songs in his canon. White also omitted any songs from The Civil Wars in this set list, adding more mystery to his former disavowed band, but short-changing fans who had no doubt developed their loyalty to him through that enterprise before his solo work. A shame.

Overall an evening spent being serenaded by John Paul White’s faultless voice made for an excellent live gig.

Reviewer - Ben Hassouna-Smith
on - 28/1/19

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