On Wednesday 19th, Jack White visited the UK again as the closing date to his current tour in support of his second album, Lazaretto. However he wasn’t playing a string of smaller intimate venues, where true fans were expected to congregate. No, he played a cavernous arena, that actual legally has to features vertigo warnings for people in the top tier seats.
Opening act Lussius were a mirror image of drums, twin vocals and then a guitarist. With an exceptionally heavy emphasis on toms and rhythmic structure, I joined the group later into their set before they wrapped up. Overall their sound was a bit repetitive however I can imagine finding the odd song rather enjoyable.
The blue pulsating stage, had a beard pop out from the curtain. There was a head and body attached, but boy that was some beard. I digress. This polite American man in typical Jack White sense, wore a folk waistcoat and suspenders as expected from a man who is use to entwining modern tastes with ostensibly old fashioned sensibilities and blues. He instructed everyone that the show is bigger than the 5 inches of your iPhone screen and it would be exceptionally appreciated if we all agreed not to stand holding our phone up over our heads for the entire night. This isn’t the first occasion or even newest thing that artists have done to counter the drone brigade of phone gazers, but the sentiment was all there. Maybe for some it struck a chord, especially those prone to the habit. For others it might have unified them with the music for then night, it is hard to be sure.
The band joined the stage and naturally the crowd went wild. OR they might have, I’m not sure. Near where I was stood everyone was completely motionless and unresponsive for almost the entire night. It was kind of frustrating, but hey ho. Gripes over, review on.
Mr White oft deviates from the record versions, and this was a lesson of in the moment collective syncing. The band knew exactly where to go, yet seemed surprised by the journey, and delighted by the destination. There was an unspoken (mostly) synchronicity and whilst the night started off a bit tangibly it eventually got off the ground running. There was a little lack of punch at times and due to the free flowing nature sometimes the long drawn out song vamping took up too much time.
The lighting was predominantly consisting blue tone with very little else. No screens, no lasers, smoke machines, over the top strobes. It is interesting how two very different shows can be impactful in the same way. Intricacy is key (RE Peter Gabriel) yet simplicity is genius. The looming III boxes (from Jack’s full stage name) rotated and pivoted at points. Only during Would You Fight For My Love did the show shift dramatically too (shockingly!) purple. Each of Jack’s live groups and outings has a predominant shade or colour scheme, however maybe his solo work will move shades throughout the years and we can expect it to become more purple orientated. That’d be quite a nice thing.
The mixture between punk, blues, folk, rock n roll was well balanced. Starting with a blazing rip of I Fell in Love With a Girl, through ‘Hypocritical Kiss’ and ‘Steady as She Goes’ the mixture of songs new and old worked well. Particular highlights were Hypocritical Kiss, Black Math, the duo singing shared between Jack and violinist Lille Mae Rische on I Wish I Could Go To Sleep. The set ended with the staple White Stripes track ‘Seven Nation Army’, which features a lot more raw power due to the hard rock Jon Lord like organ Dean Fertita supported under White’s soloing and drummer Daru Jones. Jones has added some wild moonbaton style drumming through the second verse that turned the simple foot stomping into a shuffling groove. It’s terrific.
The one thing the night could not shake was the obvious elephant in the room. Or several elephants, as this was an arena and Jack did not want to be there. He seemed to find himself enveloped in a place that was so engulfing and had no complaint complaining about it. ‘Are we going to be like a club tonight O2?’ he enquired, several times. I completely wanted to be, I truly did, but nothing was avoiding that simple fact that it wasn’t a club, and it should have been. That leads to another bizarre moan. The O2 hasn’t got a cloakroom, what, why, how? It is the biggest arena in the UK, it is not short of space, staff, or willing punters who stupidly came straight from work with all their junk dragging behind like tin cans on string. Apologies to my friends for fucking that one up.
Overall, the set was a Greatest Hits package of sorts, without the obvious greatest hits banner. We heard a fair amount of solo material, White Stripes, some Racounters, a classic White cover but no Dead Weather unfortunately. The sound was surprisingly on par for almost the entire gig. We didn’t get any harsh reverberations, piercing vocals or overtly muddiness that some of White’s latest shows have suffered lately with. The music was soul, and if you let yourself get into it, it really worked beautifully. The talent of everyone involved can not be questioned, and Dean Fertita (who I’ve seen live before) has courageously taken the helm last-minute after the untimely death of keyboardist Oscar. Jack paid tribute to the fallen bandolier and the crowd showed their appreciation. Jack did admit that it might be his last UK show for a while, however I suspect that is under his own banner. Racounters are highly rumoured to be working on new material and planning an album. It would be interesting to see the next chapter of this blues obsessed upholsterer.
Jack’s latest single – Would You Fight for My Love, one of the show’s highlights.