Live Review, 9/29/12: William Elliott Whitmore Keeps it Simple at Slim's
William Elliott Whitmore
Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012
Better than: Drinking actual moonshine.
The world that William Elliott Whitmore inhabits is one of dirt roads and wooden shacks and vast fields and howling dogs and rushing rivers and moonshine. His voice is so seeped in grit and struggle and resilience and well whiskey that it's quite impossible not to submerge yourself in his compelling storytelling from the get-go tonight. This would be a wonderful show based merely on the setlist (half of which is improvised or requested by the audience), but what makes it all the more special is that this dark-souled master of folksy blues balladry has a surprisingly humorous personality.
William Elliott Whitmore is the type of performer who will tear your heart out (and his) with a song, and then immediately make a joke that makes you laugh out loud afterwards. It's a tough balance to strike, but tonight, the 34-year-old Iowan manages it with aplomb.
The most striking example of this comes after a devastating rendition of "Pine Box" -- a heart-wrenching ballad about the death of a loved one -- during which his voice cracks, his brow furrows, and silence drapes itself across the audience. It is an overwhelming performance of an extraordinarily painful song. And right at the end of it, Whitmore looks up and says "Fuck you, robot tuner!" in reference to the fact that, earlier in the set, he had noted, while manually tuning his guitar: "I have a tuner. But I don't use it. It's a little robot I don't trust." Two minutes ago, this audience was in stunned silence -- now it's laughing out loud, and it feels like a perfectly natural transition.
Whitmore is in relaxed spirits tonight, noting that San Francisco "is like coming home". He performs in front of two pumpkins ("That's ma stage set up!") -- one resembles a dog, the other is based on him (he eventually gives an audience member the dog one). He shit-talks about "Bud Light Lime," and says that "I want a round of something they don't even make anymore... like Zima." He talks about T-shirt ideas he hasn't yet got around to making: 'DRINK MOONSHINE, DON'T DO METH' and 'DON'T METH WITH IOWA'. He is self-deprecating (at one point he claims he will play a show for "seven free beers"), and he is gracious ("I'm not anybody and they treat me like a somebody in here, so thanks guys. Tip your bartenders!")