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Sans the red and White Stripes, and bathed in ghostly blue lights, Jack White took the stage for the second of three L.A.-area concerts at the downtown Mayan. Unlike the previous night at the Fonda, where he was talkative and garrulous for the live NPR stream, the world-class guitar-slinger approached this show with a single-minded, no-nonsense intensity. This was an old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall wailing rock concert that left his Nashville roots in the dust, and bugs in the teeth of his partisan fan base, who sang along to several of the songs, from Stripes’ classics like “Hotel Yorba” to more recent solo stuff, including Blunderbuss’ sardonic tale of sadomasochism, “Love Interruption.”
During their well-received opening set, L.A. veterans of the local scene Cold War Kids recalled being scheduled to open for the White Stripes at the Forum when the band abruptly broke up, and – even with a new Third Man/XL Recordings/Columbia solo album, Lazaretto, set to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts next week, White is now playing clubs again, though it’s clear the crowd’s passion raises the temperature in this intimate venue to a feverish pitch. White and his crack five-piece band include fiddle and mandolin player/vocalist Lillie Mae Rische, who provides the Meg White on-stage foil; funky organist/synth player Ikey Owens; pedal steel player Fats Kaplin; sturdy stand-up/electric bassist Dominic Davis and whirlwind, muscular drummer Daru Jones, who Jack frequently plays off of, raising the rhythmic ante until it explodes in shards of metallic thunder at various points in the set.
White plays havoc with the previous night’s set list, opening with a thudding “Icky Thump,” his guitar screeching like a prehistoric bird soaring through the sky, while Owens’ chunky keyboard riffs highlight the new “Missing Pieces” and White’s whooping riffs power the psychedelic Zeppish instrumental “High Ball Stepper.” This night’s performance of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” which opened the show at the Fonda in a more metal take, is given a waltzy country feel after a bone-ratting bass intro, establishing the link between Nashville and the acid blooze of Plant and Page.
“Alone in My Home” captures the paradox at the heart of Jack White’s music, the desire for isolation and comfort set against the major rock star he transforms into in front of an audience, and this one is hanging on every wah-wah guitar flourish. “Nobody can touch me,” he sings, but his reaction to the crowd’s adulation contradicts the plaint. The 1-2-3-4 count-off of “Hotel Yorba” is turned into a back-porch swing number, thanks to Rische’s feverish fiddling, while White burns, the verses going out fast and furious, reverberating back in the crowd’s shouts, straining to keep up the frenzied tempo.
The brand-new “Temporary Ground,” with its mournful fiddle, sports a Johnny and June-style duet between Jack and the winsome Lillie Mae that recalls The Band, while White’s dirty-ass Hendrix-style pyrotechnics raises the stakes on The Raconteurs’ aptly titled “Top Yourself.” Jack heads behind the keyboards for the Little Richard-ish gospel blues of “Three Women,” with its “lawdy lawdy” nod to Lloyd Price’s “Miss Clawdy.”
Things are quieted down to a Dead-like wistfulness for “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket,” followed by another Stripes rarity, “Hello Operator,” which he didn’t play the night before, enlivened by Fats Kaplin’s honking harp accompaniment. “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” builds to a fever pitch as White’s falsetto has the crowd in a frenzy, singing along and yelping it up with the band sidling off to a roaring, stomping ovation that seemed entirely earned.
The encore gets underway with White’s Jimmy Page-like solo on the title track to Lazaretto, before mock-admiring the architecture of the vintage Mayan Theater and launching into the Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes,” hammer-picking the guitar solo like vintage Eddie Van Halen. The encore continues with Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like a Buffalo” into the geometric precision of the Stripes’ “Little Bird” and a completely aggro “Sixteen Saltines,” with sounds of “more cowbell” and a “can-he-really-be-playing-that” segue into a delightfully unexpected cover of Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut.”
The anthem-like “Seven Nation Army,” with its indelible guitar thrum heard in sports arenas throughout the land, turns the quaint Mayan into the Staples Center for a brief moment, as Jack strides into the front row, guitar in hand, to press the flesh and bellow out that riffage for the ages. And if that were not enough, he is joined by a pair of helpers for the finale – Conan O’Brien (White had taped a performance for his show earlier that night) and John C. Reilly, Walk Hard’s Dewey Cox himself – an all-hands-on-deck take on Lead Belly’s classic “Goodnight, Irene,” with White even graciously letting the red-headed talk show host take a lead on guitar.
Purists might carp that the post-Stripes White’s new band is more conventional and less formally innovative, but for those who wondered what Jack could do as the member of a real-live group of skilled musicians, here’s your answer. Now that his conceptual bent is satisfied by vintage analog recording methods and his beloved vinyl, Jack’s music is free to soar – like the birds he frequently evokes in themes and sounds — without any such superimposed restraints. Long may he fly.
Icky Thump (White Stripes)
High Ball Stepper
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (White Stripes)
Alone in My Home
Hotel Yorba (White Stripes)
Top Yourself (The Raconteurs)
You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket (White Stripes)
Hello Operator (White Stripes)
Weep Themselves to Sleep
I’m Slowly Turning Into You (White Stripes)
Steady As She Goes (The Raconteurs)
I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather)
Sixteen Saltines/Devil’s Haircut (Beck cover)
Seven Nation Army (White Stripes)
Goodnight, Irene (Lead Belly cover with John C. Reilly and Conan O’Brien)
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