Review: Jack White concert at the Chicago Theatre

  • Pin It

“Blunderbuss,” the title of Jack White’s first solo album, suggests a scattershot approach to American music rather than a focused exploration. Everything is possible, nothing is out of reach.

On the title track of his recently released second album, “Lazaretto,” White declares, “And even God herself/Has fewer plans than me.”

In a city inspired by Daniel Burnham’s maxim to “make no little plans,” White was right at home in Wednesday at the Chicago Theatre (he played a second sold-out Chicago show at the Auditorium Theatre on Thursday). White dedicated the epic 29-song, nearly three-hour show to Chicago institutions that inspired him, notably Muddy Waters and Chess Records.

When he quoted Waters – “I feel alright this morning” – it very nearly was the next morning. White stretched his set to ‘round about midnight, playing a 50-minute encore thick with blues accents, country twang and spirited nods toward just about every one of White’s multitude of incarnations over the last 15 years.

The raven-haired guitarist took a wide-screen approach to American music, beginning with blues and country and branching out from there into twisting jams, space-rock sound effects, gospel organ, subterranean metal and something like grown-up children’s songs (how else to describe the innocence of so many of the White Stripes’ best moments).

With a five-piece backing band, White let spontaneity rule and seemed to be making up the set list as he went along. The songs were rarely played like perfect copies of their recordings. Instead, they were more like collections of chords and words that White and his band disassembled and rearranged at will.

It’s no knock on White to say he may never quite achieve what he once did with his former wife, drummer Meg White, in the White Stripes. They had an extraordinary rapport on stage, a give-take, push-pull, yin-yang that was visually, physically and sonically explosive and unstable in the best possible way. The White Stripes’ songs remain a vital part of the set list, and show a side of White’s personality that is rarely seen on his darker, more complex solo albums. From the exuberance of “Hotel Yorba” to the sing-songy optimism of “We’re Going to be Friends,” the White Stripes’ songs resonated even when they weren’t swept along by the Godzilla-like guitar riffs of “Seven Nation Army” and “Icky Thump.”

Yet White still loves the idea of a band – that’s likely why he’s been in so many of them. He nodded to the music of other project such as the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, as well, plus his collaboration with Danger Mouse (the spooky, spaghetti-Western-inspired ballad “The Rose with the Broken Neck”).

The quintet for this tour was flexible and resilient enough to bend and swerve with him. Drummer Daru Jones resembled a chef presiding over his kitchen during dinner-time rush, mixing ingredients, adding pepper, a pinch of brown sugar and a dash of panache wherever needed as he rose from his chair and waved his sticks like fine cutlery. He could crash like a demon, lay back and burn like a seasoned jazz percussionist, or not play anything at all to give everything room to expand.

Double fiddles sometimes emphatically overlapped with White’s guitar, pedal steel wept, upright bass swung, organ brought the congregation to church, and synthesizer took them into space. At times White bent low to share a microphone with fiddle-player Lillie Mae Risch, and their harmonies had a little bit of the sweet-and-sour blend once achieved by X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka.

White didn’t shy from his strong country and blues vocabulary as a guitarist, either, but nor was he afraid to distort and disturb it. Things got messy and overextended at times, but it clearly kept White away from everything he loathed: something predictable, tidy, middlebrow.

He’s not in the White Stripes anymore, but for the first time since that band broke up, White is finding a similarly combustible chemistry on stage with his collaborators. His is a band to be reckoned with. No wonder the guitarist seemed so reluctant to call it a night.

greg@gregkot.com

Jack White set list Wednesday at Chicago Theatre

1 High Ball Stepper
2 Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground (White Stripes)
3 Lazaretto
4 Missing Pieces
5 Hotel Yorba (White Stripes)
6 You Know That I Know (Hank Williams)
7 I Cut Like a Buffalo (Dead Weather)
8 The Same Boy You’ve Always Known (White Stripes)
9 Three Women
10 The Rose With the Broken Neck (Danger Mouse)
11 Freedom at 21
12 Cannon (White Stripes)/Catfish Blues (Jimi Hendrix)/Two Trains Running (Paul Butterfield)/Got My Mojo Working (Muddy Waters)
13 Sixteen Saltines
14 Astro (White Stripes)
15 Stones in my Passway (Robert Johnson)
16 Blunderbuss
17 We’re Going to be Friends (White Stripes)
18 Entitlement
19 Top Yourself (Raconteurs)

Encore:
20 Fell in Love with a Girl (White Stripes)
21 Icky Thump (White Stripes)
22 Manic Depression (Jimi Hendrix)
23 Steady, as She Goes (Raconteurs)
24 Blue Orchid (White Stripes)
25 You Don’t Know What Love Is (White Stripes)
26 The Hardest Button to Button (White Stripes)
27 Just One Drink
28 Ball and Biscuit (White Stripes)/Got My Mojo Working (Muddy Waters)
29 Seven Nation Army (White Stripes)

  • Pin It

Local & National Video