Two Nights In September At Radio City Music Hall with Jackie White OR How I Spent Two And A Quarter Hours Of My Life
Written by Iman Lababedi from rocknyc Tuesday, 02 October 2012
(Note: the above video of The Strokes preforming ‘New York City Cops’ featuring Jack White is obviously NOT from the Radio City show reviewed below, but we wanted to include it anyway, because it highlights Jack’s awesome guitar work!)
It was Sunday morning and I was halfway thru writing my review of Jack White’s concert interrupted at Radio City Music Hall, when it dawned on me that he was playing again Sunday night. So I did what any right minded man who had just been systematically blown away by one of the most singleminded concerts he has ever seen. I bought a ticket.
And now, with an accrued two hours and fifteen of the Jack White Blunderbuss tour visits RCMH under my belt, I am hear to spread the news: both nights were among the best sets of the year, but I give the edge to Saturday. Not by much. The difference in length, 60 minutes versus 75 minutes minus 6 minute comes to 69 minutes but, dig this, on Saturday he performed 12 songs, on Sunday 21 songs. How is this possible? On Saturday he performed extended instrumental versions, on Sunday he was brutal.
It is the difference between sleekness and brute force. Saturday was a sleek, consistent, beauty of a set. Despite his occasional snide remarks, White was almost astoundingly on point: the songs segued in tone and in spirit. It was a modern hard rock masterpiece, a consistent study in the reflected brightness and joy of sound. Opening with “Black Math” and relentlessly for 60 minutes, he tilled the same ground, the same sound. A brilliant achievement. On Sunday he opened with “Missing Pieces” -a more popular piece of rock, and throughout the set, White’s joy of blues, like the shiny metallic blues the lighting projects on the stage, was the most important aspect. Two Leadbelly songs, one Dylan and one James Booker and one Blind Willie Johnson. But not just blues, White performed “We Are Going To be Friends” and followed it with “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”, both of which would have seriously disrupted the tone of Saturdays concert.
Sunday was a more typical concert, it had shadings that Saturday didn’t have but the shadings came at a price: it made the set juts out at different angles. There is a gruffness to Jack White, he seems intent upon living up to our worst expectation. “Jesus Christ”, he spat at us on Saturday night, “Is this an NPR convention?”
I am not sure if White was upset over the ending of Saturday nights gig, he stormed off stage with a terse “Good night, New York” and didn’t return. Some member of the audience were less than amused, refused to leave, returned merchandise, and took to Twitter in wrath and childishness. My sense was, what the hell the hour we got was more than good enough. And also, this is true, when a band plays too long, even if they maintain the same quality, the concert gets worse with repetition. When you play for two hours, around the 90 minute mark, attentions start to drift. The shortness of the set absolutely worked in White’s favor. It was perfect as was. Indeed, I had just written “could use some additional colors in his palette” when it was over.
On Sunday, he didn’t respond to anything at all. His entire interaction with the audience was two words at the very end, just before taking a bow with the band: “Good night”. So I didn’t think White particularly cared that audience members were camped outside the stagedoor after the show. I don’t think he cared he got booed.
If White responded at all, it was probably the “Top Yourself” segueing into “Maggie’s farm” (renamed “Peggy” for some reason best known by him and his therapist). Though he had played the Raconteurs track a day earlier, the “Maggie’s Farm” was new and brought together, it seemed like a scream of defiance: I will not be here for you and I won’t do what you tell me.
It was also pretty good and like both nights: it was an extremely clean sound. White, King of Analogue, has a sound that defies the multi tracking impossible to hide from in the 21st Century, the blues us defined by a certain dirtiness but White’s band is the exact opposite: the guitar sound is pristine, and the band? At their loudest you can hear every note: it is if they ply together without banging into it and truly, it sounds like nothing else in the world except, of course Blunderbuss. On Sunday, this unique and beautiful sound, these metallic arrangements, allowed White to integrate Blind Willie Johnson’s classic “John The Revelator” into his licks aplenty sound (I mean he cuts his riffs short) with great ease. Only the language dates the song.
As a vocalist, White sounds like a white metal star, his voice is high and he sounds as though he is whining, and to his credit, it works perfectly well. He has a bit of the Robert Plant about him, but he lacks the power. As a guitarist White is a model of self-control. He sublimates his abilities (a pretty good brittle neck guitarist) always in service to the song. Over two and a half hours, if White played a superfluous note, I didn’t hear.
Lyrically, with the White Stripes he could get a touch poetic, and as a solo artist, he steamrolls loves labors lost, with brittle, nasty metaphors, that jump in your face. Its roots are in the blues: “Trash Tongue Talker” is a close relation to “James Booker’s “Papa Was A Rascal”… actually it is something White made clear when he played them back to back on Sunday. And while White has gone on the record as never ever writing about his personal experience, and when you are digging into the blues idiom the form fills the content, still he sounds like a man who has been around the bitter truth about love interruptions more than a few times.
I am not a huge fan of the blues, by I admire White’s forays here. I liked em in his third band, the Dead Weather, represented by “Blue Blood Blues” on Sunday, “I cut Like A buffalo” on Saturday, and I prefer them live. He has so much purpose about everything he does, like Bob Dylan, you get the sense he could start anywhere and end anywhere, choose songs randomly from his career and they would all fit together. The sense is in the continuity.
If this reads like an extended fan letter, it is. I have hated White ever since an atrocious set at the very same Radio City Music Hall, and have never come within a million miles of forgiving him for it. On top of that, I saw the raconteurs opening for Bob Dylan and didn’t like that either. But earlier this year there was simply o denying Blunderbuss, his first solo album was absolutely standout. After years of claiming the riff to “Seven Year Nation” does not a rock star make, I have to tip my hat in awe of the man. When you can perform that well you don’t have to be nice to your audience, or your friends, or your bands. It gives you permission to be as difficult as you choose.
For two nights of Radio City Music Hall, White taught nyc something it should keep in mind. Not everybody is thrilled to be here. Not everybody thinks it matters that they’re at a national landmark. Some people say, I am not gonna like you, or suck up to you: here it is, if you don’t like this then don’t come complaining to me. If this isn’t enough, what is?
If Jack White at Radio City Music Hall, either night, isn’t enough, then don’t fool yourself, you don’t love rock and roll.