No Context: White Williams at the Mercury Lounge
by Zach Baron
White Williams, a/k/a the 23-year-old New York-via-Ohio Joe Williams, is a young guy. Press legend has him opening for Black Dice and the Rapture in ’99, which would’ve then made him 15, give or take; eight years later, in a week or so, he takes White Williams on the road with Dan Deacon and Girl Talk, his buddy from back when, whenever that could’ve been. I ventured this here, but New Yorkers have got to love the tour contrast—two venue-wrecking solo acts getting high on becoming one with the crowd, vs. our man White Williams: self-contained, slight, specific; good clothes, great haircut; precocious, indifferent.
When Smoke finally drops—11/6, on Tigerbeat6—talking points will include an “I Want Candy” cover, a track called “Fleetwood Crack,” and the slap-bass-y white funk he summons up on “Smoke.” But “New Violence”, which you can hear right now, is the key. Like Blondie’s “Rush Rush” with the bass dialed, or the Strokes with rhythm, or post-punk if post-punk never happened, “New Violence” pulls off the icy feat of being an irresistible song that doesn’t care whether you resist it or not.
It’s actually inhibitive—live, auditors have the option of a quiet leg jerk, or nothing. No hands in the air. Stage dialogue – for context, last night’s show at the Merc was one of his first, I think the very first with the two piece band he had with him – sounded like “turn the computer main mix up, please.” There were perfect girls and guys in the crowd, and you got the sense Williams wasn’t thinking about going home with any of them. What his stage thing is is serious: it is, up there, a matter of importance that his band hits their cues. It is important that when he sings, he hits his exact note.
Restraint is probably what separates WW from faux casio-calypso crooners like Bobby Birdman, and it’s what will enable people to love him in a way that some never will, say, the New Violators, even though that band also has WW’s immaculate fashion and 80’s-keyboard squawk and distant David Bowie vocal. They also both definitely love the Cure—check for Williams’s melodica-d Route to Palm.”
At the Merc, he had presence, which was one thing, and songs which were another, and he had a venue, this city. It shouldn’t be reaching to say that there is a quality particular to this town in White Williams’s music—a perfectionism, which is part of it, but also a kind of artistry that does what it does first and only then looks back to see who came with. Two weeks before his tour, two months before his album, he’s not alone and couldn’t care less.