Missing white boy

Jun 21, 2000 at 12:00 am

Mystery White Boy starts with the sound of an amp warming up and the gentle din of a crowd drifting to the background, nearing silence, as Buckley’s gentle guitar opening to "Dream Brother" coaxes his band to join him. After a quiet three-minute first verse, lost somewhere in an exotic sonic locale, Buckley picks at his guitar like throwing a stone into a quiet pool. The signal is sent and soon enough Buckley and band – in 1995, Michael Tighe, Matt Johnson and Mick Grondahl – begin to float their brand of post-grunge poetic vitriol above the heads of the crowd.

This is how Buckley ought to be remembered: passionate, romantic, angry and spooky, wrapped around his own exalted visions of his heroes – from Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell to Captain Beefheart and Leonard Cohen. And though he probably never would have blessed such an unironic interest in artistic professionalism, Kurt Cobain lurks among these early live ruminations too. For it was Nirvana – like the Byrds opening the dike for his father Tim 25 years earlier – that leveled the musical playing field so that a talent like Buckley could play his songs for one of the biggest record labels in the world.

Regardless, the music here is simply magnificent. Whether it’s Buckley calling out to his mother and father during the previously unreleased "What Will You Say," to Buckley asking a French crowd to "mangé beaucoup la fromage" between songs, Mystery White Boy highlights him as an animated live performer, not just a troubled, drowned troubadour. And it’s this distinction, between easy clichés and blitzkrieglike romantic explosions, that makes all the difference.