“Take my seat and ride way back, and watch this train move down the track. I'm gonna bring it on home to you. – Sonny Boy Williamson II
A recent New York Times magazine piece bluntly assessed Jack White, the former White Stripes frontman, as being the “coolest, weirdest, savviest rock star of our time.”
And White is on the cover of May’s Uncut magazine, with arms crossed and eyes glared. The feature promises “the (mostly true) confessions of Jack White.”
We first had an inkling of White’s curious ways very early on. The B-side to the White Stripes’s first single was Look Me Over Closely – a Marlene Dietrich cover written by Terry Gilkyson – and we’ve been sizing him up ever since. He had us believing the Stripes’s drummer was his sister and not his former first wife. Later, that wacky cross-Canadian tour by the duo in 2007, with its one-note concerts and claimed Canadian heritage and such – that was just one giant, rolling photo-op, wasn’t it?
So, fine. We get it. But enough of it already, Mr. White, if in fact that is your real name (which it is not – it’s John Gillis). Yes, your slyness is charismatic. Sure, the music industry can always use the stylish, shrewd shenanigans of an outsider. But how about now you dim the lights, plug in that baby blue Telecaster of yours and give us what’s what. How about, in the words of Willie Dixon (as sung by Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Plant), you just bring it on home?
That is exactly what Motown mystery man did this past Thursday at the Scottish Rite Cathedral at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. It got loud quickly, with the itchy, abrupt rock of Sixteen Saltines, off White’s new (and first and fine) solo effort Blunderbuss. Three more cuts from the album followed: Missing Pieces, Freedom at 21 and Love Interruption. It was splendid racket: monster riffs and third-rail potency; the wail of Led Zeppelin with the stomp of the shake-them-on-down blues.
It was the second of two sold-out hometown shows that day by White: An earlier matinée at the gorgeous 1,500-seat venue featured an all-male backing band; for the night-cap he used ladies. For his first solo tour (including a show Sunday at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre), the singer-guitarist-producer is alternating gender-specific bands.
I’m not sure it matters if the band member use the his towels or the hers. It’s part of White’s curatorial aesthetic. He gets “wouldn’t it be cool if” ideas in his head and follows through with them. Produce an album by the ancient rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson? Sure, why not. Start his own record label and open up a record store in Nashville? Done. His roadies at the Detroit show, for example, were nicely fashioned in black suits and hat, with ties and other touches of light blue. They looked like Amish Elvis Costellos.
The women players were a sight as well – badass bridesmaids in that same shade of blue, though the fiddler looked sweeter. They rocked dynamically, especially the drummer. Effect is fine; bringing it is better.
White does in-your-face, thrill-ride Delta blues-rock, as electrifying on stage as anyone. The late-show soccer-chant hubbub of Seven Nation Army was a arm-pumping tribal rally.
The curious, wily character had unmasked himself on stage, and rock ’n’ roll never looked better. Is he savvy, for floating 1000 helium balloons into the air with a flexi-disc of his single Freedom at 21 attached? Is it weird, that a man obsessed with the number three issues a 3-rpm record? Perhaps. Or maybe the dude is just plain wicked.
Jack White plays Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre on May 27.