“Ten years ago I was in a band called The White Stripes and we were going to play the O2 Arena, but we had to cancel the tour, so that’s one reason we’re playing here tonight.”
The world most important trinket-maker and blues guitarist, Jack White, returned to the UK and London’s O2 Arena last night to make amends, it would seem, for a cancelled show – and to also demonstrate both his skills on guitar and as a business man. However, whilst the merchandise stall was merely perfunctory, by the end of the evening White and his band had conjured magic from the air.
Anyone in any doubt that Jack White is still one of Rock’s most important figures need only look at the headlines he has generated in 2014. Firstly, he released his excellent second solo album, Lazaretto in a vinyl version * with more bells and whistles than a Las Vegas hotel simultaneously hosting conventions for The Football Referee’s Union and The Society of Court Jesters.
There are hidden tracks, different versions of the same track, holograms in the run off groove and one side even plays from the inside out, but what you may not have noticed behind all the kerfuffle is how good the record is. Plenty of Lazaretto was given an airing last night, and fitted neatly alongside classic tracks from The White Stripes, Raconteurs and Jack White’s first solo album, Blunderbuss.
Given LPs are older than some of my jokes, it is quite a feat to make something so innovative. The hidden songs are a fine idea, albeit few people realise that when you play the track over the paper label, you hear a mysterious, scratchy voice saying “You’ve just ruined your stylus. Your turntable’s now dead”.
As for the hologram in Lazaretto, I wouldn’t say the effect leaves one a little underwhelmed, but let’s just say if R2D2 had pointed to the inner grooves of an LP to relay Princess Leia’s plea to Obi Wan Kenobi via this method, Star Wars would have been much less impressive. **
White appears to have loosened up a little since a somewhat moody show at Glastonbury this summer during which he prowled the stage like a leopard with spot-ache trying to make something happen with his band. Tonight he was all smiles, and engaged more with the crowd. “There’s no screens, no lasers – just me and you” he smiled. “Just because we’re here in a big tent doesn’t mean we can’t play some slow songs tonight”.
Given how the world’s press has twisted every statement White has made onstage recently ***, giving the impression that White is somehow even more angry with the world than his ex-wife’s lawyers would suggest, I am half expecting the headline “Now Jack Hates Tents” in the morning papers….
The first half of the show showcased White’s excellent band, all wearing black armbands in honour of recently departed keyboard player Isaiah “Ikey” Owens.
When The White Stripes were still around plenty of people would speculate what the songs would sound like with a full band, and now we get to experience that. It’s never less than thrilling. However, during the second half of the show you also realise no matter how superb this latest version of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” may be, there was something even more magical about that unique aesthetic of producing those songs within the confines of a two piece band, and with Meg White on drums.
Yet during “Ball and a Biscuit” White & co drag the blues kicking and screaming into the 21st century with astonishing power. Then, “Would You Fight For My Love” from the new album then reminds us that this new incarnation is more expansive, and if anything, White’s song-writing is only getting better.
A boisterous crowd left happy singing along to Seven Nation Army whilst White took a bow with his band. This was their last show until next year, White said. Whatever he does next, you know it won’t be dull…
Footnote: For once I kept my camera in my pocket tonight, at the request of White through an announcement made before the show started. What I liked about this, was that the announcement also stated that, in return, photos of the evening were being taken and would be available for use by all in social media etc on Jack’s site – and sure enough they are, so the images you see here are taken by that excellent photographer David Swanson and are used here with permission.
* Although White appeared to fill the Ultra-LP with more clever tricks than Paul Daniels trying to conceal a toupee, I can exclusively reveal that there were several ideas rejected at the planning stage, including a bonus EP of Jack White Rants (A side: Adele, B-side: The Black Keys. Bonus track: Foo Fighters and Katie Perry) and a special edition of the LP only playable on a special turntable (included) which you had to build and assemble yourself.
** Luke Skywalker: “What am I looking at R2? It looks like a bird flying….is that all it does?”
R2D2: “Beep beep squoink”.
Luke: “What’s it saying? She’s got three women, red, blonde and brunette? Okay, but can they do the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs?”
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