I suppose I should begin this review with a minor disclaimer: as far as I’m concerned, Jack White is the best thing since sliced bread. I love his bad-wig hair, his de-fangled blues and his southern American drawl. I’ve seen him in concert seven times, in his all various musical guises, and nearly cried once or twice. So it’s safe to say I’m a little biased. That aside, and I realise this may lack a little credibility after that little confession, Jack White’s solo career is off to a roaring start.
It is reasonable to expect that any artist with such a markedly successful music career to date would steer clear of performing old material, in an attempt to ‘carve his own path’ (and to avoid unwanted comparison), but not the formidable Jack. Performing the entirety of his UK number one first album, Blunderbuss, including singles ‘Love Interruption’, ‘Sixteen Saltines’ and ‘Freedom at 21’, he also strays into old White Stripes territory (‘Hotel Yorba’, ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’, ‘My Doorbell’) and Raconteurs favourites (‘Steady, As She Goes’, ‘Top Yourself’). There are certainly differences between the uninhibited country-rock of ‘Hotel Yorba’ and the more constrained intensity of ‘Trash Tongue Talker’ that almost seem to clash with each other, but to me those clashes make the night. Had White come out and played a straight rendition of Blunderbuss, the concert would have felt a little flat. Instead it is more a record of musical achievement – a sort of audio-photo album – that charts the various heights of White’s musical career.
It perhaps says something that the old songs remain the best; the White Stripes and Raconteurs numbers remain the best received, right down to the undeniable classic ‘Seven Nation Army’. In contrast to the crowd’s unconstrained enthusiasm for these numbers, their quiet appreciation for the Blunderbuss material could be seen as underwhelming. But I think it’s less a case of unpopularity for White’s latest endeavour, and more a case of ‘old favourites die hard’. In ten years time, when White has moved on to his fifth or sixth project, I like to think that the sharp chords of ‘Sixteen Saltines’ will move crowds just as the deep bass of ‘Steady As She Goes’ does now. But for now, nothing will beat the feeling of a sold-out venue singing the ‘Seven Nation Army’ riff while White sings the lyrics – you almost feel part of the band.
Not to forget the band, of course. Whilst Blunderbuss is billed as White’s first solo album, throughout the tour he is actually supported by one of two bands of six: all female or all male. Tonight he chooses the ladies, including backing singer Ruby Amanfu and drummer Carla Azar, and what a splendid job they do too. Surrounded on stage by a semi-circle of long haired, siren-like beauties, he narrowly avoids looking like a slightly eccentric Hugh Heffner by paying a carefully equal amount of attention to each musician, going instead for the ‘conscientious polygamist’ act (to borrow a phrase from the Guardian).
Music critics have themselves faced criticism for unquestioningly accepting anything and everything that Jack White does, and bowing at his feet – much as I find myself doing, I suppose. But this time round I feel that they are perfectly justified in their praise: White has again and again achieved the one thing that evades the majority of artists – creative-recreation. But he still hasn’t lost a sense of his ‘heritage’, if you like. Maybe one day he’ll put a foot wrong, but for now Jack (can I call you Jack?) remains, in my humble and slightly biased opinion, the last of the great rock stars.
Image: Rock Cousteau on Flickr