Jack White at the Mayan Theater: Concert Review

Jack White Webster Hall April 27 - H 2012
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Jack White Webster Hall April 27 - H 2012

Self-made rock icon brings his past into his present during raucous solo performance.

At what point during a career does an artist’s audience and the industry allow for complete freedom? Whenever it may be, Jack White has reached it.

The musician, whose debut solo album Blunderbuss came out last week, having proved himself adept in multiple genres both as a performer and producer, is now empowered by both his fans and the music world to do whatever he wants. Jack wants to create a 3 RPM record that’s impossible to actually play? Sure! Jack wants to release his new single via weather balloons? Seems like the textbook definition of alternative distribution, so why not? Jack wants to perform his solo shows with an all-female backing band while his guitar is turned up beyond a reasonable volume? Bring it on!

But the thing is, as egomaniacal as this might seem, White is an apt pied piper to lead a music industry that appears hellbent on traditionalism. It became clear during his performance Monday night at Los Angeles’ historic Mayan Theater that White didn’t just fill his backing band with all female musicians; he searched high and low for the absolute best female musicians (as he introduced his Danish guitarist he noted, "There's not too many girls who play the pedal steel”).

REVIEW: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Live at The Apollo

If the band initially seems like a gimmick, it becomes clear from watching them perform with White that they’re quite the opposite. The six-piece outfit offered better versions of tracks from White’s extensive catalog than the originals, starting with the show’s opening version of The White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” which still sounds remarkably moody when fleshed out beyond guitar and drums. This wasn’t White’s only chance to revisit his former band -- the evening’s set list surprisingly hung heavy on tracks not found on Blunderbuss, perhaps because White is not the sort of musician to ignore his prolific musical output in favor of hawking copies of a new release.

Between renditions of The White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba” and “I’m Slowly Turning Into You,” White and his band twanged and rocked their way through 80 minutes worth of The Raconteurs and Dead Weather numbers, as well as new material. It was almost as if White was hesitant to unleash his solo tracks, which include the rollicking singles “Love Interruption” and “Sixteen Saltines.” Early in the night, White asked the crowd, “It’s OK if I play some new songs for you, right? Sometimes I have to check.”

REVIEW: Buzz Band Alabama Shakes Makes Troubadour Debut

And while the drunken, moderately out-of-control audience responded with more enthusiasm to White’s raucous, wild-eyed rendition of “My Doorbell” during his lengthy encore than to the lesser-known tracks, it was evident that a crowd doesn’t need White to confirm their acceptance. He can do whatever he wants, play whatever he wants, and inexplicable moshing will ensue. And the best part is that White doesn’t take this blind acceptance as an excuse for complacency. He still searches for new ways to express the guitar riffs in The White Stripes' “Suzy Lee,” playing off the sheer force of rock 'n’ roll coming out of his band, and takes the time to infuse old favorites like “We’re Going to Be Friends" with new, invigorated energy.

So it seems that White is exalted because he deserves to be -- because he continually insists on adapting the old methods of rock into viable new means of experiencing sound. Your record player won’t spin a 3 RPM album? Maybe that’s just White’s way of empowering you to take an old tool and make it something evolutionary, much like how he records his music using a tape machine and then releases the tracks digitally -- a backward or seemingly conflicting series of actions that ultimately embraces an industry ideology of change.

Maybe the fans and industry welcome a musician’s complete freedom when we truly need what is generated by their artistic liberation, whether we realize it or not. If that’s the case, then White can do whatever he wants. And, as we know well at this point, he will. 

Set list:

Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Missing Pieces
Sixteen Saltines
Hotel Yorba
Top Yourself
Love Interruption
Weep Themselves to Sleep
I'm Slowly Turning Into You
Blue Blood Blues
We're Going to Be Friends
Take Me With You When You Go
Ball and Biscuit
Freedom at 21
My Doorbell
You Know That I Know
Two Against One
Carolina Drama
Seven Nation Army
Goodnight Irene

Twitter: @THRMusic