With two touring bands (one all boys, the other girls); no set list; the best-dressed roadies in the biz and recent exploits including sending records up into space, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jack White wants to be in The Flaming Lips. But this third man and seventh son was just being himself in the lead-up to his debut solo tour in Oz. Sydney’s rock ‘n’ roll circus was at the Hordern and lived up to the high expectations everyone had for this great White.
The support came courtesy of White’s very own Third Man label signee and Sydney’s finest, Lanie Lane. The sultry songstress and her three-piece rockabilly band were squashed into the tiny crevices of spare room left at the front of the stage. They would put on an entertaining show for a warm and receptive home crowd.
She started with the bluesy, “Jungle Man” and initially sounded like a feisty, rock chick (at least in terms of her vocals). Musically however, it seemed to sit somewhere between the multitude of talent found in the best records of the fifties and sixties, with a hint of surf rock, blues and jazz. There was the sexy; “Like Me Meaner” where Lane shared a few things in common with Betty Boop and even received a few catcalls from the approving males in the audience.
Lane told us there’s “A great guy comin’ on stage after us”. “Jack” – she knows him on first-name basis, although I wished she called him “John” – had produced her recent, 7-inch single. The smoky, “Ain’t Hungry” and b-side, “My Man” were played with jamming ditties and pieces that boasted a rockabilly tinge. While her big single, “Oh Well, That’s What You Get Falling In Love With A Cowboy” was well received; the punters’ favourite was her cover of The Black Keys’ “Gold On The Ceiling”- where the guitars gurgled through the cavernous venue.
A community service announcement preceded the set by the star of the evening and former White Stripes frontman and member of The Saboteurs/Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. This was that the cast and crew had one request, for everyone to enjoy the show in 3D rather than behind a three-inch screen or “Enjoy it live now, rather than tomorrow”. An official photographer would shoot the entire set because White was making a stand against the distracting people who fumble with their mobile phones in the dark.
The band started with a bang in “Black Math”. It was a very different version to the one originally by The White Stripes, with more incendiary and dirty guitar riffs it would prove the template for how a number of the duo’s songs would be translated tonight. In full-band mode it was like every note had to be harder and bigger and while this occasionally meant it was stronger, there were some moments where you could be forgiven for longing for the raw, stripped-back simplicity the pair used to bring to the occasion.
This evening’s band was the all-male group playing a combination of drums, violin, keyboard, piano, double bass, mandolin, guitar, bass and slide-guitar. This was a combination befitting a stadium thanks to its musicality and intense power and volume. In some ways the latter elements seemed to rival The Who’s live show back when Moonie was drumming and they had a reputation for being loud rapscallions. (And White is clearly a fan of the ‘Orrible ‘Oo with the obscure “Armenia City in The Sky” played among the excellent, between-set music).
“Missing Pieces” had some keys inspired by the late Jon Lord from Deep Purple. Another new song, “Freedom At 21” was played at a breakneck speed. It was like listening to multiple walls of sound and made us all forget about the maligned, Phil Spector. Instead, Messer White was building a sturdy, brick house and that was before he’d don an acoustic guitar for the lighter, “Love Interruption”.
The first and perhaps best banter from Jack White came as he introduced “Hotel Yorba”. It was: “How you doin’ Sydney… This song is in the key of G. If you wanna keep up, go ahead”. This was an excellent version where the music was accentuated by mandolin and piano as people danced and sang along like it was 2001. It was one they all cherished, but “You Know That I Know” was clearly closer to White’s heart. A cover of the Hank Williams’ song, it served some country twang before it was back to the garage rock.
The set was a fluid affair, full of jams and different shades of black, white and blue. There was plenty of light and dark moments plus the cinematic and the sparse. At different times White would emulate guitar Gods like Hendrix and Clapton for the choice solos; Pete Townshend for the volume; and Jimmy Page for the virtuosity. There were many cuts from his three different outfits plus solo material and a cover. But at the heaviest moments the band could’ve been Black Sabbath while the most cinematic ones were the domain of Queen and then there was the blues – pure and simple – where the only thing that was missing was a gutbucket.
The 16-song main set included old White Stripes favourites “Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground” and “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” alongside The Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like A Buffalo” and The Saboteurs/Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Solider” and “Blue Veins. These offerings meant you could’ve been seeing a group in dinner jackets smoking cigars in a jazz joint, or a raucous bunch of punks in a sweaty garage or anything in between. It was truly happening, often heavy and distorted; bold and brash; and full of great, powerful moments offset by lighter shades although the four-song encore was all killer, no filler.
White didn’t employ stupid stage gimmicks; he let the music speak for itself. “Sixteen Saltines” had a crazy warble and was rougher than the recorded version, which shares a few things in common with the live copies of The Who’s “I’m Free”. The guitars were pushed to the limits – like most in this set – during “Steady, As She Goes”. It was rewarded by a sea of clapping hands that would eventually turn into air-drumming for “The Hardest Button To Button”. While the latter was a rousing end, it’s a tie between this and the climatic “Seven Nation Army” for the pick of concert highlight.
There had been many peaks during this stunning show. Jack White had proven an absolute delight with his earthy, old school approach. He must have blues coursing through his veins because this talented and creative all-rounder is one hell of a modern day guitar whisperer.