Live Review: Jack White, Blackpool Empress Ballroom (6/11/12)

Jack White puts a lot of effort into making his set seem effortless. His choice to tour with two different bands (one all male: The Buzzards, and one all female: The Peacocks), difficult equipment and never to have set lists derives from a sense of struggle. Jack White knows that hard-work on stage will force the crowd to work hard off-stage and, as displayed by his deliberately shortened set earlier last month in New York, Jack White hates a lazy audience. He set out to win the Northern audience and free us of our typically British inhibitions; in short, he wanted us to be having as fun a time as he and his all female band were having.

And what fun they were having. In ‘Ball and Biscuit,’ Jack White, with the band horseshoed around him, would dart from girl to girl and engage in a solo or, more accurately, musical ecstasy. Jack White has adopted the Nashville Band as family for this solo tour and they have beautifully framed White’s old Stripes’ songs. A steel pedal guitar here, a double bass there, and a necessary organ help mature Jack’s catalogue to match the violent tone of his ‘Blunderbuss’ album. No vibrant reds anymore, Jack’s gone violent on us: black and blue everywhere. Even his jet black suit, pale skin and slick-back hair made him look like what Tim Burton might imagine the Frankenstein monster to look like. It was a beautiful synthesis of Jack White’s Gothic aesthetic with his authentic blues and country stylings.

His newer songs – ‘Missing Pieces,’ ‘Love Interruption,’ and ‘Freedom at 21’ to name a couple – are testament to Jack’s enduring relevance. Unlike some artists, you crave the new songs as much as the old; enough so that even the minor ‘Blunderbuss’ tracks sound like blues-rock standards.

He dotted his most well-known songs casually throughout the show. ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,’ ‘Hotel Yorba,’ ‘The Hardest Button to Button,’ ‘Broken Boy Soldiers,’ and a moment’s nostalgia in ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’ all featured with further snippets and cameos from other favourites: ‘Screwdriver’ and ‘Let’s Build a Home’ to name a couple. These weren’t rehashes but reinventions; the garage-rock fun of the originals remained intact. Some of White’s lesser work (tracks by The Dead Weather) have never sounded better. For example, Jack White has liberated ‘Blue Blood Blues’ by stepping up to lead guitar rather than confining himself to the drum kit. I’m beginning to think this modern guitar god is something more than human; he transformed this mediocre single into a tour-de-force purely through the power of his caustic guitar tone.

Of course, ‘Seven Nation Army’ made a statutory appearance. Prompted by the drunken shouts of an audience member, White, spontaneous as ever, medleyed his modern classic with one of The White Stripes’ old favourites: Son Houses’ ‘Death Letter.’ As a personal favourite song, the rudimentary unrehearsed touch highlighted how comfortable Jack White and Co. are when accommodating those inimitable moments that transcend a regular gig to a truly awesome experience. It may be futile to say so, but Jack White certainly won over the Blackpool crowd and, in the process, made it look effortless.

Jeremy Dobson

…Jeremy has been listening to Hunting Bears – So Long…


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