White Williams (Ne Joe Williams) has been breaking out since dropping his debut record, Smoke, last November. Pitchfork and many other media outlets gave it quite a bit of love. This fall he opened for mega-group Battles so it was just a matter of time before he'd headline his own show. Using processed beats, analog synths, and live guitars and bass, Williams instantly garnered comparisons from party monster Girl Talk to throwbacks of glam rock and everything good that's evolved from electronica in the past 20 years. But with such great songs and great hype on his side, why did Williams fall flat?
Download: White Williams - "New Violence"
After four other groups, Williams, donning a partially shaved head, finally hits the stage around midnight with his band in tow. It's an anticipated performance, a chance for him to demonstrate his ability to be a headlining act. Williams works the laptop and synths while one guy plays bass and another guitar. The opening song is a melodic instrumental full of oscillating sounds setting an atmospheric mood. Next, Williams plays "Headlines," an upbeat track that he sings with echoing vocals. Williams has to multi-task in turning knobs, singing, and playing the melodica leading to long pauses between songs. These pauses stunt the momentum of what should be a highly energetic performance. A friend suggests he should get a helper. He plays his best named track, "Fleetwood Crack" integrating scrambled beats and syncopated basslines. A lot of his songs are not quite danceable but infectious with slow and electronic tinged rhythms. By the time Williams plays "New Violence," one of the best songs of the past year, the catchiness doesn't supersede how disaffected and disinterested Williams, the band, and the entire crowd have become. Williams sings and moves around stage but never looks directly at his audience. Maybe he's trying to give the impression of aloofness but for a frontman to succeed, he needs to cater to the audience and interact with them and give something back. This is why performers like Dan Deacon and Gregg Gillis are popular because they rev up the audience with call and responses. The crowd appears bored and instead of dancing, they stand there and slowly nod their heads in tune. Some idlely await for something spectacular to happen, but nothing ever does. It may be too late for Williams to salvage his performance. About five songs into the set, Williams mentions the next song will be his last. What? Come again? Talk about an abridged set. He ends on the excellent "Route to Palm" containing surf rock tendencies and dulcet melodies. For a headlining act to only play half a set is quite incredulous. Smoke alone has 11 tracks on it. The audience feels gypped to the point when someone yells out: "Five more songs!" We hear you, buddy.
Maybe Williams' approach is to leave the crowd wanting more, but instead of wanting more, everyone is disappointed. The thing is, White Williams' music is so amazing and he has so much potential, but somehow it doesn't translate live. Maybe it was the pressure of carrying a show on his own or maybe it was an off night for him, but for the people who came out in -2 degree weather (for real) he should've given the performance of his life. Or at least play a couple more songs. Here's hoping next time he'll be more into it.