@ZackTeibloom This is difficult for me to say, but this was not Jack White’s best weekend in Austin. The dreaded “this was very very good, but not great” review. On paper, the setlist was a cream dream. Tons of White Stripes and just the right amount of variation between the two night’s sets. An encore that was more of a second set than an encore, chock-full of crowd favorites. And Jack was Jack. Explosive, jumping all over the place and going from musician to musician to play off them. So, why wasn’t it great? I think Jack pushed the band past the point where all of them were comfortable and I wanted to say that made it playful, but that’s just a nicer way of saying it got loose. And there’s nothing wrong with looseness, per se. It’s cool to hear Jack get so loose with “Steady as She Goes” that he’s barely even playing the actual riff of the song for stretches. The band didn’t seem as thrilled. Daru Jones was a monster on the drums. He can more than keep up and his kit is closer to the front of the stage so he and Jack can really play off each other. Aside from Daru, I don’t think this is the best band for Jack to tour with. I found Lillie Mae especially to be entirely boring and her singing and lack of energy made me long for Ruby to be back on fiddle and singing back-up. Everyone else was fine, but it didn’t quite come together.
What made the first solo tour so great was hearing White Stripes and Raconteurs songs re-worked with a tight Nashville sound. This is kind of in between. It’s the looseness and improv of The White Stripes, but instead of having steady, reliable Meg who he always had incredible chemistry with, he’s playing with a mish-mosh of two bands who haven’t really found their stride and their loose take on the Nashville sound doesn’t quite work. OK, that’s too far. It works. It’s still a damn good concert. It’s just not peak Jack like last tour was. And I can’t pin it all on the band. Jack was great, but rarely transcendent. His solos didn’t reach that next level. He was engaged, but not that losing control, out-of-body place he can get to when he’s really on. A great Saturday night crowd made for a superb opening night, but a few bad apples made Sunday noticeably worse and left a bit of a bad taste in mouths of fans who may not see Jack for a long time, if we’re to believe his closing sentiments.
I was especially looking forward to a couple nights of Jack with some serious Jack fans. For once, this wasn’t a festival or free taping. You had to really want to be here. Scalpers were jumping to buy my extra ticket for $50 Saturday night, but I sold it to a fan outside the venue for face at $55 and he was ecstatic to get it. There was a great energy inside Austin Music Hall Saturday night. Fans were clamoring for Jack during the forgettable opener. I spent most of the opener’s set trying in vain to find a decent vantage point from the balcony before sneaking down to the floor. The blue curtain came down and the excitement was palpable. The guy in the bowtie and hat pictured above came out to implore us to put our phones away and enjoy the experience in real time. The girl in front of me cheered in agreement and then filmed the first 15 seconds of the show. The curtain parted and the band was already onstage whipping up into a frenzy of noise that turned into … OK I’m not going to regale you with a minute by minute breakdown of the shows or the terrible human beings I had to yell at to shut up* Sunday night or the miscues or annoyances that made the weekend slightly less than perfect for me. I’ll just discuss the top 7 moments that made me thrilled to be there seeing my favorite musician two nights in a row.
7. The curtain rising night one to an explosion of sound turning into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.”
I got teary-eyed right away. I was overwhelmed to be seeing Jack again and that roaring opening got me right in the mood. He was playful and stomping around and set the tone for the night right out of the gate.
6. The “Ball and a Biscuit” guesting with Charlie Sexton
Better in theory than in practice, neither guy really went for the solo this song demands. Jack broke a string and Charlie seemed excited to play with Jack, but unsure of what to do. Jack tried to guide and encourage him and they made the song sound great, but no one really quite took the lead. It was fun to have a local guest and Sexton sounded good, but it wasn’t the bombastic “Ball and a Biscuit” I’d hoped for.
5. Kicking off the second night encore with “Fell in Love With a Girl”
I figured we’d get “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” since he swapped “Icky Thump” in for it to open and was pleasantly surprised for the upbeat “Fell in Love With a Girl” that got the crowd hopping for the second set. It was the most fun song of the night and flowed into “You Don’t Know What Love Is” perfectly.
4. Jack’s guitar solos on “Lazaretto”
In a weekend where Jack rarely reached that next level in his solos, he got there both nights during Lazaretto. The title track from his latest album really shines live and Jack got in a couple ripping solos, arguably his best of the weekend as he opened the song up to extended jamming.
3. The slow, quiet, beautiful opening to “We’re Going to be Friends”
As wild and unrestrained as Jack let himself be on “Lazaretto,” he slowed it down to a crawl for the perfectly quiet ballad. Jack slowed it up a few times over the weekend, but never as poignant and beautiful as “We’re Going to be Friends.” It’s a showstopper.
2. Crowd “woo’s!” on “I’m Slowly Turning Into You”
Honestly, this may be Jack’s best live song at this point. The crowd starts the call and response “WOO’S!” early and get louder and louder as the song goes on and Jack feeds off the energy. Jack closed set one with it the first night to a raucous crowd that was banging on the bannisters for more and chanting the “Seven Nation Army” riff over and over in waves.
1. Seven Nation Army finale
Jack closed both nights with his most famous song and you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to end a rock show than his stadium anthem. Jack’s guitar squeals, the crowd jumping up and down and singing along and the thundering drive make it so you know the show is over. There’s just no way to top it.
So Jack lined up, took a bow with his band and before his trademark, “you’ve been wonderful and I’ve been Jack White” he told us he won’t be back for a “very, very long time.” Does that mean he isn’t going back into the album recording and then touring phase next? Is a third Jack White solo album not on the schedule? No plans to tour with The Dead Weather? With Jack, who knows? And he could say on Sunday that he won’t be back for a long time and then get inspired and write an album in a month sometime when he’s not touring this year, so I don’t know what to expect. Still, I’d be surprised if he’s back in 2015 and am not really expecting a 2016 show. When he was playing drums for The Dead Weather and producing, I hoped for this. A band where he was playing guitar and on lead vocals and headlining festivals and selling out Madison Square Garden and that’s where we’re at. I have minor gripes about his second solo album not being as great as his first and his latest band incarnation not being nearly as great as The Peacocks and Buzzards and the fact that six of the seven best moments were White Stripes songs and not new material. But still, minor gripes. It was a great rock show on Saturday and a very, very good one on Sunday. And I still have nothing but love for Jack and can’t wait to see what’s next.
- Saturday: 9.7/10
- Sunday: 9.4/10