Drake White wasn't born a star. But he was born with a whiskey-soaked voice the monumental size of which can crumble mountains, part the Red Sea and send even the most high of dignitaries to their knees. During his pitstop at New York City's Gramercy Theatre on Thursday night (March 23), the troubadour was reckless, feverishly pouring his heart out for a sold-out crowd--his first headlining gig to do so in the City That Never Sleeps. It was a jam session with White hitting each song note for note as if lifted directly and ceremoniously off his debut album, 2016's Spark. Joined by an army of musicians--who are Adam Schwind (drums), Jonny Molasses (fiddle, guitar), Matt McDaniel (guitar, banjo, keys, steele), Philip Pence (bass)--White was triumphant, unabashedly digging his teeth into a string of soul and southern rock numbers.
"Take me as I am and don't let go," he swore on the album closer which opened his fiery set, splashed with blustering, swampy harmonica and thick guitar solos. "It Feels Good," "Equator" and "Heartbeat" surged over the crowd, as they spit back the lyrics like White was looking into a mirror. In 10 very long years, White was where they were, toiling away as a spectator and a dreamer of his stage visage before his career began to take off two years ago. His outstanding It Feels Good EP remains his watershed moment; set onto a live backdrop, White is a marksman, an eclectic purveyor of musical accomplishment. "I need to get back to my roots, to the truth," he later professed on "I Need Real," which seems to be a statement piece about not only his life and the things that make him feel but the music, pumping from his veins and the rush of the crowd's energy. There's no other feeling quite like a wall-to-wall throng of fans hanging on your every word. And White soaked it up like a sponge taking in water.
He would later spin remarkably astute readings of "Story," one of his album's focal points, and "If I Could Have a Drink" (which he "wrote five years ago," he said). He brought out opener David Kennedy for the latter, the night's most visceral and tender moment. But on "Makin' Me Look Good Again" (his new radio single), "Elvis" and "Livin' the Dream" he relished in the adoration of his wife (and how he feels not quite up to snuff for her allure) and his rising stardom. "You can wait for a break or break down the door," he powered on "Elvis." Then, on "Dream," a plucky ditty about living the American Dream, he reveled, "Big blue sky, green, green grass. Ain't doin' half bad for a half full glass."
"I don't know any better subject to write about than freedom," White pronounced before issuing his most politically-bent performance. "Back to Free," a soft-spoken deep cut, details the desire for the past as he reminisces about the small things in life which characterized "an easier life, an easier time." He later warned, "How the hell did we wind up here? Self medicated in a lazy chair? Safely dying locked in our homes? Nobody's talking but we're all on the phone." The segue, then, into George Michael's "Faith" made complete sense, a celebration of life, being your most authentic self and living as free as possible. "I need some time off from that emotion, time to pick my heart up off the floor. Oh, when that love comes down without devotion, well, it takes a strong man, baby. But I'm showing you the door 'cause I gotta have faith," he expressed on a sonic flip into Americana.
"My grandfather influenced my love of the outdoors, my love of music and my love of being adventurous. He was a preacher back in the day (before he passed away)," White continues. "I just went digging through some of his old sermons and thought it would be cool to kind of put them in there in kind of a Pink Floyd 'The Wall' kind of way," he told AXS.com about his record. That swelling vivacity trickled throughout the night. Sometimes he took the audience to church, sometimes he sent up a heartfelt prayer, and even more, other times, he provoked the crowd to meet his meteoric flame right in the middle.
What White and the Big Fire have built from the ground up is a marvel, the 8th wonder of the world. White's voice alone would have made him a star, but when backed with such a sturdy, dynamic and talented group of musicians, the songs come alive. Stories about blue-collar Middle America, romance, nostalgia, coping are electrified in their very capable hands. And while White spoke very little during his show, he let the music do most of the talking, and that was enough for his adoring fans.
Check out his remaining tour dates:
March 25 - Mohegen Sun – Wolf Den | Uncasville, CT
April 7 - The Dallas Bull | Tampa, FL
April 13 - Exit/In | Nashville, TN
April 14 - Mercury Ballroom | Louisville, KY
April 19 - Jergel’s Rhythm Grille | Warrendale, PA
April 20 - Coyote Joe’s | Shelby Township, MI
April 21 - 8 Seconds Saloon | Indianapolis, IN
May 5 - The Bluestone | Columbus, OH
May 31 - Moonshine Beach | San Diego, CA
June 2 - Brandin’ Iron | San Bernardino, CA
Stay tuned to AXS.com for any and all updates.