I was worried going into the Nina Nastasia and Jim White concert at L.A.’s Knitting Factory on October 11 that I would be at a loss for things to write about. Usually, seeing a band on stage means ample chances to dissect all the features of getting a large group of musicians together. But with just two people performing, I wondered what all could possibly be said. Nastasia and White kept things to themselves, not further fleshing out their self-contained duo that created this year’s dark-hued mini-masterpiece, You Follow Me (FatCat). But my worries were misplaced. As on record, live Nastasia and White create quite a sonic palette out of the simple elements of voice, guitar, and drums. The duo put in a performance as stunning as that of any sprawling collective I’ve seen live lately.
Nastasia, in a black dress and black stockings, with her dark hair pulled up in two buns behind her head, like some cross between Minnie Mouse and Princess Leia, showed some deft finger-picking skills on acoustic guitar. Her voice was crystal clear and beautiful live. White, in a casual suit and looking more like a businessman than a rocker (even toting around his drumsticks before the show in a leather briefcase), played with the varied inflections of an ace jazz drummer. His style seems very loose and uncalculated, like he just lets his arms and the sticks they’re holding go wherever whimsy leads them. Nastasia and White seemed to both be in their own little worlds, Nastasia standing off a good distance from White on stage, White seemingly lost in a private reverie much of the time, the two not communicating too much between numbers. Yet they worked perfectly together.
They got through most of the songs from You Follow Me, opening with “How Will You Love Me,” White starting with padded sticks before switching to regular ones. Next came the more sinister sounding “I’ve Been Out Walking” and “The Day I Would Bury You.” Songs like “Our Discussion” ebbed and flowed on the back of White’s sometimes-propulsive, sometimes-subdued tempos. Whatever he was doing, White was sure to be showy with his movies — the human brain is better at hearing something if it can also see it happening. Of course, some Hollywood hipsters were neither watching nor listening but talking to each other, an annoyance that sometimes marred the quieter moments of the performance. Other lowlights included Nastasia and White tripping over the very complicated beginning to “I Write Down Lists” and Nastasia telling tales about when she used to live in the neighborhood that were nowhere near as interesting as the stories in her songs.
Eventually the two dipped into Nastasia’s back catalog. Some songs she played without White drumming. The show reached a cathartic high point with “Late Night,” a typical quiet-loud-quiet song run through a folkier sieve. It probably should’ve been the closer, but the duo kept going with a few more tunes off of Nastasia’s older solo albums. Fitting, since she was the real revelation of the night. From his work with the likes of the Dirty Three, PJ Harvey, and others, we’ve known for a long time how talented Jim White is. Now it seems Nina Nastasia is making a name for herself as one of the most talented female singer-songwriters around.