Jack’s back, on Halloween night. In fact, he tells us he would have been here earlier, except that he had to help some kids down the road build a bonfire. But where’s the powder blue suit he’s been sporting all through this tour in support of Blunderbuss? Has he decided to leave it in the wardrobe for the European leg? A t-shirt and pair of pants suffice tonight. It’s left to all-female backing band The Peacocks to provide the glamour, each attired in some variation of a black ensemble. Dressing-up costumes proliferate through the devoted and vociferous audience, adding to the party atmosphere. The O2 may be far from full, but the attendance is still larger than could be accommodated in any of the city’s other indoor venues.
When he bounds on stage he’s ready to go, and the set moves speedily from one song to the next, with the minimum of stage patter. That just wastes time. Although, perhaps predictably, song selection leans heavily on cuts from his first official solo album, Blunderbuss, he revisits material from each of his former bands, in the process recasting them with the current players. So, opener ‘Sixteen Saltines’ leads into The White Stripes’ ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’, but it’s much more psyched and frenzied than the original version familiar from White Blood Cells.
Hearing full-band renditions of old White Stripes’ songs, in radical new arrangements, is one of the many considerable pleasures of this show: These Peacock ladies are far from providing mere eye candy. Indeed, it’s a testament to the excellence of the band that pretty much everything, be it by The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather or Jack White, sounds better here live than it did on record. Although it is invidious to single out an individual performance for special praise when it is part of such a tight ensemble, Lillie Mae Rische’s fiddle work is superlative, as amply demonstrated on the baroque ‘Missing Pieces’, where her contribution is like a second guitar foil to Jack’s playing. The positioning of Carla Azar’s drums is telling, however, occupying the front stage to Jack’s right, just like Meg’s kit used to. He likes to be near the pulsebeat.
In the main set, Blunderbuss’ ‘Love Interruption’, ‘Hypocritical Kiss’, ‘Weep Themselves to Sleep’, ‘I Guess I Should Go To Sleep’ and ‘Trash Tongue Talker’ all feature. But they are leavened with The Raconteurs’ ‘Top Yourself’ and ‘Steady, As She Goes’, The Dead Weather’s ‘Blue Blood Blues’, and The White Stripes’ ‘Cannon’ (segueing into Son House’s ‘John The Revelator’), a rollicking full-on bash through ‘Hotel Yorba’, and closer ‘The Hardest Button To Button’. Thus, fans who came on board at different junctures in Mr. White’s career are all satisfied. There’s even an outing of his contribution to The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams, ‘You Know That I Know’, for the diehard completists. What’s fascinating, and remarkable, is how he can oscillate from earthshaking metal riffage to poignant country tonalities, switch seemlessly from electric to acoustic, and still keep everyone on board.
There’s still plenty of juice in the tank for a six song encore, comprising ‘Freedom At 21’, ‘Carolina Drama’, ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ (with more of that delicious fiddle-playing), ‘Ball And Biscuit’, ‘Take Me With You When You Go’ and yes, finally, ‘Seven Nation Army’, with some raucous slide playing. Everyone goes home happy on this festive night. Jack White has reinvented himself again but the more he changes, the more he stays the same. It suits him.
Photos: Paulo Goncalves