The short version: Mind blowing
The slightly longer version:
Watching Jack White perform to a sold-out crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheater last night, one got the sense that after years of performing with other bands, producing albums, playing weird secret shows (including an afternoon stop at an auto shop on Colfax), and running a record label, this was was White has wanted to do all along.
He not only played the leading role, but also acted as band manager, yelling out commands to his backing band of beautiful ladies known as The Peacocks. No setlist and no safety net — Mr. White was in his element.
He opened the set with the classic White Stripes song “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground,” while his huge shadow loomed on the rocks behind him. The screeching grimy guitar announcing his arrival. Surprisingly he leaned heavily on The White Stripes catalog throughout the night, but stretched the limits of the classic sounds fans have grown to know and love to create almost new songs. His backing band allowing for some songs to take on a new appearance smoothly and easily.
The most noticeable example being The Stripes’ breakout single, “Fell In Love With A Girl.” What was originally a slug of punk rock delivered at break-neck speed was slowed down to a spacious ballad-esque pace, helped along by The Peacocks’ soulful vocalist Ruby Amanfu. Despite the crowd getting into it and singing along, I found myself just wanting to listen to this new version because it was so interesting. It was a definitely highlight.
White also busted out some songs from his other projects including a frantic and noisy take on The Dead Weather’s “Blue Blood Blues” and a faithful version of The Raconteurs’ “Top Yourself.”
When the band did get into the songs from this year’sBlunderbussthey were tight and wonderfully performed, especially the title track and the dueling pianos of “I Guess I’ll Just Go To Sleep.” The band was focused and tuned in and you could tell just by watching the action on stage that these ladies know what they’re doing. The most impressive member for me being drummer Carla Azar whose ferocious, hammering beats and solos drove the band to further heights.
Watching Jack White at the piano bantering before “Take Me With You When You Go” (“I gotta say the people who painted this venue did a great job of making it just like the outdoors. I gotta give em credit for that.”) I was struck by a vision of a future Jack White who will be doing shows like this for the rest of his life. He may veer off the path to do some other weird stuff or form other bands, but this is where he is most comfortable. This is Jack White at his most pinnacle. I couldn’t help but see White as a 21st century Tom Waits. A guy who can do whatever he wants, for as long as he wants, and get away with it. Not only get away with it, but make it great.
Case in point: The closing number “Ball and a Biscuit.” I hesitate to even call it the same song as it did have the same guitar riff, but had completely different lyrics and structure and ended up just being a weirded out variation with insane solos that ended in a gloriously noisy crescendo.
The encore brought the hits. The band came back out and ran through “Sixteen Saltines,” “Freedom at 21,” “The Hardest Button To Button,” “Steady, As She Goes” (complete with great audience participation) and of course “Seven Nation Army” (with even greater audience participation). The night came to a fitting end with a cover of “Goodnight Irene.”
Pokey LaFarge and The South City Three opened the evening with their depression-era folk-blues. A genre that’s very much up Jack White’s alley, and the band ended up fairing pretty well, winning over most of the crowd with its short set of jangly old-timey tunes.
Over the years since Jack White has come on the scene he has become something of a folk hero. He’s a weirdo. He does things his own way and damn the consequences. When The White Stripes called it quits I was curious about what White would do next. Seeing his performance last night helped me realize that he is bigger than the bands he has a part in, and he’s a musician destined to be remembered well into the future.