Third Man Records proudly proclaimed the other day that its head honcho Jack White would be looking to break the record for most metaphors ever at a concert, after being snubbed by “Guinness World Records” for The White Stripes’ one note show in Newfoundland as the shortest show ever. Hearing about this, I quickly grabbed a ticket to his next New York show, headed over to Roseland Ballroom and waited for the literary onslaught to occur. Much to my disappointment, I heard not one metaphor uttered all night. In fact, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of dialogue at all, but perhaps the concept of putting on a rocking show was a metaphor for good beating evil, love over hate, or maybe just rock & roll music being better than jazz.
Regardless, White’s new live set-up as a solo artist is a phenomenal new turn for the artist. For this tour, the first ever under his own name, White has assembled two full bands — one male, one female — with each night being a surprise to the audience of which group would be performing. For this May 21 show at Roseland, we got the guys. While it would have been great to see Autolux’s Carla Azar bust up some skins to “Sixteen Saltines,” watching Daru Jones work his drumkit at times rivaled White for my eyeballs’ affection. That being said, if all eyes were glued to center stage, it wasn’t just because its inhabitant had his name on the marquee. Jack White has a presence unlike any other. Decked out in a dark blue hit man suit with a light blue stripe across it , the pale faced guitarist briskly walked on stage, his dark curls hanging stately aside his signature scowl.
The crowd ignited when the band ripped into the White Stripes classic “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” which received some new tweaking from the band, bashing out its hook with furious angst. Even the songs taken from White’s new record “Blunderbuss” were more caustic upon live performance; the record’s jazzy opener “Missing Pieces” and the honky-tonk “Trash Tongue Talker” seethed with power.
While many artists first venturing into a solo career like to stick to their new material to “prove” themselves, Jack White proved firmly that he doesn’t need to prove anything. His set was a spreadsheet of his whole career, crisscrossing from White Stripes favorites like “Hello Operator” and a deliciously deconstrcucted “Black Math,” to The Raconteurs’ “Top Yourself” and The Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like a Buffalo.” The band even played “Two Against One” from the Danger Mouse/Daniele Lupi Western project “Rome,” as well as a rocked out Hank Williams cover, “You Know That I Know.”
The band were on their toes the whole show, but those powder blue amps reached their highest heat level during the encore, when they returned to the stage with new single “Freedom at 21,” and the Raconteurs favorite “Steady As She Goes.” Just when it seemed like the show would finish out with the excellent “Blunderbuss” closer “Take Me With You When You Go,” the band bounced back in with a raucous, full-bodied “Catch Hell Blues” and “Seven Nation Army,” the latter of which had the audience chanting the song’s signature hook like a burly choir.
Metaphorical or not, the show was a telling peek into this new phase in Jack White’s career, if his recently Gary Oldman directed live stream wasn’t a clear enough gander. While I wish I could compare the female band, who are almost certainly going to be playing the second Roseland show tonight, there is no doubt that will be equally breathtaking given White’s attention to detail. White seems to be having a ball being the undisputed master of ceremonies now, a position that would be difficult to see him give up in favor of a retreat behind the drumset in The Dead Weather or a co-lead spot with Brendan Benson in The Raconteurs. Now that he’s no longer just “practically” center stage, I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed there indefinitely.