Sarah White and the Pearls; The Jefferson Theater; Saturday, August 21

 At Saturday night’s concert by Sarah White and the Pearls at the Jefferson Theater, Sarah White herself referred to the show as the “Neko Case Pity Party.” She was speaking, of course, about the redheaded alt-country singer who postponed her gig there because of an “overextended work schedule,” prompting White and her band to step in for a gig that was probably just as good, and, as the Daily Progress noted, $28 cheaper to attend.

Sarah White’s band the Pearls, with bassist Michael Bishop, has been turning heads with a much louder sound—and matching outfits.

While White’s choked-up, wistful vocals pack more of an emotional punch than that of most songwriters—Case included—White distinguishes herself by serving a heap of good humor along with everything you could want from the singer-songwriter persona, usually a far more somber business. The joyous mood onstage made the band’s roaring cover of Pavement’s “Gold Soundz” an easier pill to swallow. Sian Richards—who performs in a country duo with White called the (All New) Acorn Sisters—went onstage for a rendition of Travis Tritt’s “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).” 

Travis Tritt and Pavement never sounded so much the same. And so loud, for which we had to thank drummer Stewart Gunther, who didn’t skip a single opportunity to pummel his deep snare drum and enormous cymbals. It had the effect of blowing out “White Light,” the title track from her 2006 album, into something less understated than its recorded version, and more emotional, to be sure. 

Michael Bishop, on bass guitar, sports a bass face that could make Beefcake the Mighty—the costumed character he once played in the band GWAR—flinch in a staring contest. With guitarist Jason “Swiss” Butler, Bishop completes the trio that forms the Pearls, which have been reinventing White’s songs with balls-to-the-walls playing, arena-sized showmanship, and, yes, matching outfits.

It’s been two years since White issued her Sweetheart EP, so we’re about due for a new record—which White nodded at with one new song, a lilting ballad that exploded into a grunge jam worthy of Nirvana. Recordings recently posted to her website expand upon these themes, covering the skeleton of her country songs in a suit of armor. The departure marks at least the third phase in her career, first raw and threadbare on her debut record, All My Skies Are Blue, and increasingly lush through her catalogue. In phase three, the band plays it upbeat, no matter how sad, and downright loud. 

It was a shame that the crowd didn’t reach Neko Case-sized levels, as a performer’s energy has a way of dissipating in the Jefferson when the room is far from capacity. But looking at the dramatically lit fixtures around the theater, and at White, who wore a white sequined dress with charm and panache, it was clear that White is tired of being quiet. So pay attention.

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