Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Live Review/Photo Gallery: John Paul White at Lincoln Hall

| July 28, 2019

John Paul White

Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL

Thursday, July 25, 2019


After a rough patch on the road due to illness that caused cancellation of shows in Kentucky and Tennessee, lucky fans saw John Paul White return to Chicago on Thursday night in good health and good spirits at Lincoln Hall. “How are you doing?” White asked the crowd after the heart-tugging opener, “Wish I Could Write You a Song.” “I’m doing much better.”

“Thank God for drugs,” White added with a laugh, preparing to dive headlong into a set of his matchless country heartbreakers. “Not only am I able to sing, but I am in a really f—ing good mood. Let’s have some fun – as much fun as you can have with these songs.”

White’s modern approach to country folk and roots-pop songwriting revealed touchstones to classic influences. The melancholy waltz “My Dreams Have All Come True” gave a nod of fondness toward the stratospheric melody and naked emotion heard in Roy Orbison favorites like “Blue Bayou” and “It’s Over.”

Nonetheless, White made clear that he’s not particularly interested in throwbacks. “What’s so good about the good all days,” he sang during “The Good Old Days,” a song that became repurposed as a thinly-veiled protest. “This song goes out to our home state of Alabama,” said White when introducing the sharp rocker, with its tension heightened by Kimi Samson’s unsettled shards of fiddle.

Much of the set was devoted to The Hurting Kind, White’s album released in April. Nine of the album’s superlative songs were performed, with White flagging the title track “The Hurting Kind” as a rarity – a song for which the title came first. He insisted that he had no choice but to write such a song and name an album after it. “This is what I deal in,” he admitted. The song’s aching melody was sung with fragile falsetto and pin-drop hushed tones. “Careful what you’re wishing for,” he sang of the longing for love and its unpredictable hazards. “You might just get all of it and more.”

“Heart Like a Kite” was a tale of a faithless lover not necessarily drawn from personal experience, but White said it still hit close to the heart. “There has to be some of me in there to do this every night,” said White. “I miss my kids. I miss my wife. I miss my bed.”

White produced a special guest for the star-crossed duet “This isn’t Gonna End Well,” introducing local hero Kelly Hogan as his “new best friend.” Although White had only met Hogan that day, he said that Hogan was an old friend of bassist and Drive-By Truckers veteran, Shonna Tucker. Hogan stood in for The Hurting Kind’s duet partner Lee Ann Womack, but the fresh pairing was a perfect fit on a song about new lovers afraid to be too vulnerable to each other.

Amid the utterly poignant songs of love and loss, perhaps the most affecting was “James.” White explained that the song was inspired by Glen Campbell, a musical role model who could do it all, and a superhero in White’s eyes. White described the tragedy of watching his icon’s magic fade due to the horror of Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than write a biographical song about Campbell, White made his tribute even more personal. “I didn’t want to use facts of his life, so I used my dad’s,” he said. The song played out as a conversation from father to his unrecognized son, with devastating asides.

There’s a woman out there in the hallway

The prettiest thing I have seen

And it makes no sense

But she’d pass for the twin

Of the girl, I gave my class ring

The song concluded with a quote from Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.”

“Simple Song” was dedicated to White’s grandmother. White described losing his grandfather as a child and being unable to contain his emotions at the time. When he asked his grandmother why she didn’t cry, she answered, “I cried so many times for your grandpa when he was on this earth, there’s no way I’m gonna cry for him now that he’s better off.” “Which is a hell of a thing to tell an eight-year-old boy,” added White.

White’s five-piece band is packed with talent at all positions. During the sorrowful and romantic “Hope I Die,” drummer Reed Watson matched the crash of ocean waves while guitarist Adam Morrow unleashed a rafter-scraping guitar solo.

The only time White didn’t lean on his talented band was at the top of the encore when he played “The Once and Future Queen” without the benefit of his rhythm section or even the PA system. Standing at the edge of the stage with his battered Martin acoustic guitar, White sang his lyrics of veiled regret with the help of the huddled audience instead.

Hogan returned for a duet on Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” The pair quipped good-naturedly and mid-song about “pronoun trouble” after jumbling a couple of “me’s” and “you’s.” The show concluded with White’s reimagined take on Electric Light Orchestra’s “Can’t Get it Out of My Head.” Opening act and Single Lock Records labelmate Caleb Elliott joined on cello, weaving an intertwining string section with Samson’s violin. The song was a daydreamer’s regret and one more slice of beautiful sadness.

White had explained his method earlier. Before playing the Bakersfield-styled “Yesterday’s Love,” he referenced his prior album, 2016’s Beulah. “This is a song that didn’t make that record,” he said. “It was plenty sad enough but didn’t quite congeal. It fit the new record just fine.” After crooning along with Todd Beane’s weeping pedal steel, White gave away the secret. “It’s fun to sing lines like that and smile. It’s how I get it out.”

– Review by Jeff Elbel; Photos by Philamonjaro (except as noted)


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Category: IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews

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