Old Timey Meets Modernity: A Night With Jack White

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The world of music is simultaneously derivative and progressive.  Technology allows for massive variation within the art, sometimes permitting a novel sound that no one has heard before (the invention of the electric guitar, Daft Punk) and other times improving the accessibility of the music (radio, CDs, digital music).  The implementation of novel sounds via technological advancement has been implemented far differently by artists.  Some have found their sound by rejecting technological inventions, others fully embrace the new techniques and instruments, and some find themselves inspired by the amalgamation of the two.  But there has been one common thread throughout all music of the last four thousand years: it was all derived from an earlier source

“Have you ever felt that you were born in the wrong decade?”

Those were the first words Jack White said to the audience at his sold-out show at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago on his Lazaretto Tour.  It’s no secret that White appreciates (thinks he belongs in) the past.  You can readily find a photograph of him sporting a fedora, his record company – Third Man Records – has championed the phrase “Your turntable’s not dead!,” and he drives a white 1960 Ford Thunderbird around his adopted city of Nashville.  Today one might call him a hipster, but Jack White’s preferences are more genuine than that.

The former-White Stripes front man has an appreciation of the mores and ways of the early and mid-1900s.  These sentiments can be found in White Stripes’ tracks like “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman.”  Like others who view the earlier half of the 20th century as a better, simpler time, White finds some displeasure in some of the changing norms of the modern world.  Maybe unsurprisingly then, the rock star has been resistant to some new technologies.

As previously mentioned, White’s record company proudly touts “Your turntable’s not dead!”  While many labels still offer vinyl records, arguably none put such an emphasis on the art.  In fact, it was this year when White and Third Man set the world record for fastest record made.  His passion for vinyl goes so far that he encourages his fans to convert to vinyl collections by selling turntables through his record company and incentivizing the purchase of vinyl records with special features and songs that can only be accessed on the antiquated medium.

Adding insult to injury for some, White actually attempts to ban all forms of photography and videography at his live showsWhat?  How can he even do that?  Well, he asks — or, rather, one of his well-dressed crew members does.  After opening act Benjamin Booker (check him out, he’s great!) melted into the stage like Jimi and the curtains closed, Jack’s spokesman came out to ask that all fans refrain from using photography and making any recordings throughout the night.  Though the result was not perfect, the overwhelming majority of the audience refrained from holding their phones above their heads throughout the show.  White believes that taking photos and videos takes fans away from the participatory nature of a rock concert.  I buy it.  The audience was fully engaged and ready to throw away their inhibitions.  Despite all of his resistance to the changing ways of the world, however, Jack White has always balanced out his eccentric love of the past by utilizing technology in order to easily share his music.

The next item on the list for Jack’s sharply dressed spokesman was to inform the audience that Jack travels with a photographer and they could download pictures from the show the next day.  And you know what?  Their pictures are substantially better than any I could’ve taken that night.  If you’re a real lucky fan, the show would be taped.  To celebrate the worldwide release of Lazaretto on July 10, his entire June 10 show was streamed live and available for anyone’s viewing pleasure the next day.  That was not White’s first brush with a fully recorded show, though.  In 2012, during his Blunderbuss tour, Jack participated in an AMEX Unstaged production that was directed by Gary Oldman.  If you haven’t watched its entirety on YouTube, you’re not really living.  All-in-all the greatest rocker since 2000 has found a balance of old-timey aesthetics and modern technological advances to put on one hell of a show.

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On July 24, he opened with “Icky Thump,” a favorite of mine and probably every White Stripes fan, casual and ardent alike.  The curtains opened, the unmistakable opening riff thundered through the historic theatre, and White’s band’s talents were immediately on display.  A palpable energy flowed from the stage to the audience.  Seats were unnecessary.  It was a rock show.  When Jack finally stepped up to the microphone and belted the first line, “Icky Thump.  Who’da thunk?  Sittin’ drunk on a wagon to Mexico?” I knew the show was destined to climb to the top.  It felt as though the song had just begun when it ended.  The curtains closed, but the band continued.  Blue lights flashed on beat, then erratically, but never stayed still.  The cloth wall obstructed the view and created tension.  The crowd ached to see Jack and the band again, the tension steadily mounting.  Alas the obstruction was removed, the tension relieved, and the show went on.  An intentional act no doubt a brain child of the Third Man.

The band seamlessly continued while White took time to put on his boots.  After securing the footwear, Jack grabbed his axe and started the rest of the show.  “Astro” was next.  A number from the White Stripes’ first LP, “Astro” is a blues-rock song that perfectly characterizes the aura of The White Stripes.  With Jack’s new team on the mission, the song was completely fresh, almost unrecognizable.  The song ended and quickly the title track of his latest LP began.

“Lazaretto” followed, shifting the content from earliest to latest.  The band effortlessly created a festive environment, inviting the fans to find the rhythm with their bodies.  Next came “Just One Drink,” another track from Lazaretto, which highlighted the singing talent of Lillie Mae Rische (I can’t speak for everyone, but Lillie Mae stole my heart that night).  Jack switched gears, the well-dressed stage hand grabbed the baby blue telecaster from his hands, and traded for his undersized acoustic guitar.

“This song is about another building in Detroit that nobody gives a damn about.”

Enter “Hotel Yorba.”

The country-esque jam about a promiscuous hotel in Detroit rocked the house and hinted to the overall music theme of the rest of the evening.  Next, Jack and the band entered into “Entitlement”, my least favorite track off the latest album; admittedly, the song was markedly better live.  Following the slow acoustic-driven “Entitlement,” the band went into “Alone in My Home,” a song that capitalizes on phenomenal lyrics and enchanting music.  The band did not disappoint.  Jack walked around the stage, whispering the next track to some band members.  They smiled and started to play.  Others picked up the melody and began to play the music.  Watching the front man dictate the songs extemporaneously was impressive and gratifying.  Every Jack White show is totally unique; there are no set lists.  When White Stripes’ dominated the next few songs I wasn’t upset.

“The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” was brilliantly played by all on stage and then, after a few whispers to musicians, transitioned into “Cannon,” another track from The White Stripes.  (A real treat to hear older songs from a veteran artist, in my opinion.)  One of the best performances followed.  One of the most memorable tracks from Icky Thump, “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told),” was a skillful performance that included an impressive extended guitar solo and convincing vocals that made one question if they really did know what love was.

To close the set “Top Yourself” and a mix of “Ball and Biscuit” and “Got My Mojo Workin’” (by Muddy Waters) was played.  In a flash, the concert that felt as if it had just started was ending and Jack grabbed Lillie Mae’s hands, skipped off the stage, and the curtains closed.

Naturally, there was an encore.  Every band, unless the audience is horrendous, treats their fans to an encore.  I expected that.  What I did not expect, however, was a ten song encore that – for me – outshined the first part of the show.

After excruciatingly long ten minutes spent screaming and clapping, the curtains opened and the band was back.  “High Ball Stepper” was played first and could quite possibly be considered the crown of the night.  The instrumental number perfectly displayed the musicians’ dexterity and gave a jolt of energy to every soul in the Auditorium Theatre.

“I Cut Like a Buffalo” was played next and was the only The Dead Weather song of the entire night.  Following “Buffalo,” Jack moved to another familiar location: the piano.  What followed was the opening track to Lazaretto, “Three Women,” a track from Danger Mouse’s Rome, “A Rose With A Broken Neck,” and “Would You Fight For My Love?”  After exercising his talents on the piano, White returned to center stage with an electric six string.

“That Black Bat Licorice,” an energized rap/rock/blues amalgamation, was a delight to hear and watch.  Again, the team changed tracks and played another White Stripes’ classic, “Hello Operator” which was another highlight of the night.  “We’re Going to Be Friends” was next.  A song that reached far beyond the White Stripes’ normal base, “Friends” was one of my most anticipated songs.  The sing-along playful nature and it’s simple, fitting music make it a song perfect for live performances.  The audience that night agreed.  Jack called on the audience multiple times to finish lyrics and we were there.

The penultimate song of the night was “Blunderbuss,” title track off of Jack White’s first solo album.  The song pulls together bluegrass, blues, country, and classic rock to create a sweeping ballad that highlighted the vocal prowess of Jack White.  Nearly the end of the road, his voice cracking, Jack brought home the bridge and ultimate chorus, overpowering his failing voice by yelling the lyrics pitch-perfectly feet away from the microphone.  The crowd rewarded him with a well-deserved ovation.  Finally, the night closed with “Goodnight, Irene.”  Benjamin Booker, the opening act, was invited on stage to play guitar with Jack as he sang Lead Belly’s quintessential anthem.  Listen below and use your imagination as to how Jack may have sounded.  Or better yet, go to a show.

Jack White is truly a rock star.  He lives to perform, his music has yet to miss, and he has a controversial attitude to go with it.  Many view him as a madman, others as a genius.  One thing is certain: he is a great musician.  A great musician who has brilliantly combined many classic musical genres with modern effects.  His eclectic taste makes his shows a must-see for any fan of music.

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Benjamin Booker and Jack White playing guitars for “Goodnight, Irene.”

I’m just mad the video below didn’t happen to me…

Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is working full-time as a Management Assistant.  He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 at Wayne State University in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Urban Development.

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