Live: Jack White Expands His Sound At Roseland


Jack White w/Alabama Shakes
Roseland Ballroom
Monday, May 21

Better than: Sweating profusely in Wichita.

Jack White doesn’t seem like the type to reminisce. He’s certainly wrapped in more nostalgia than penny candy, and his unflappable rise as the most artful Americana reconstructionist and thorough throwback rock star of his era has always been based around an ephemeral dialogue with the past. Still, looking longingly inward towards his own experiences and previous work never seemed to fit into White’s eccentricities—slowing down for resurrection or remembrance was never an option when constantly moving and expanding one’s creative abilities was the key necessity to survival.

But after the dissolution of The White Stripe, White was put in the uncomfortable position of momentary stasis. It was a true turning point, a thoughtful juncture where pure momentum didn’t matter anymore. During the first of two concerts at Roseland Ballroom in support of his first solo album Blunderbuss, White seemed more aware of a tangible past than ever.

A lot of Blunderbuss seems to deal with, if not vent about, the events in his life—the Stripes’ breakup, White’s divorce from his wife Karen Elson, the death of his older brother. Seemingly more alone than ever, White has found comfort and motivation in numbers. He’s surrounded himself with two backing bands, the all-male Los Buzzardos and the all-female The Peacocks. Flanked by juggernaut musicians and emboldened with the creative impetus they afford, the vulnerabilities White always seemed resolutely determined to expose while performing as a duo have vanished. It’s almost scary to make it easier for him to flourish, and true to his nature, rather than sit back in a groove, White was still the most energetic and musical force on stage throughout the night.

Functioning as a true bandleader, White shouted out songs and urged on the members of Los Buzzardos (The Peacocks play night two) as the band ran through songs from all over his catalog. New songs like the searing “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom at 21” were dark, abrasive, and petulant, fitting in the most neatly with White’s past garage-punk interpretation of Delta blues while still marking an ever-growing sophistication in his song writing abilities. “Take Me With You When You Go,” the most developed song on the new album, snuck its way into an encore full of classics and still felt cozy while vamping and changing moods from siren-tinged swing to cascading piano swells to low end funk breakdowns.

It was also an undeniable pleasure to hear songs from White’s little-duo-that-could blown apart and projected into a full band setting. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Black Math,” and “Catch Hell Blues,” among others, were blissfully cranked out with more muscle and heft than a duo could ever manage. Freed to freewheel, White’s screeching, hi-pitched tiptoed and divebombed magically throughout the older numbers, most impressively along side the outright swagger of set closer “Ball and Biscuit.” White wisely stuck to some of The Stripes’ heaviest material, and even then much of the quirk, nuance and character of the original numbers was impossible to recreate. But White’ music works in so many ways (“In the Cold, Cold Night” would probably work totally fine as an atonal choral operetta), and the opportunity to hear such beloved songs beefed up and jammed out was something Stripes fans needed to witness, whether they realized it or not. It was like Dorothy emerging out of a monochrome existence into a vivid Technicolor world—even if the hues were oversaturated and some important texture was lost amongst a wash of light and overexposure, it was a visceral, essential experience that challenged one’s view of already appreciated objects.

On Blunderbuss, the comfortable movement between genres seemed to mark a confluence of ideas forming an unequivocal creative torrent. In that sense, compared to the glorified yet fruitful side trips that were The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, the album took the shape of a real move forward—even if just a gentle one. As White finished off his encore with the full crowd following along to “Seven Nation Army,” he still found himself in a familiar position, crowding around his drummer as he had done much of the show, and most of his career.

Critical bias: Down with duos.

Overheard: “I’m leaving after a few songs because I have a boyfriend and a dog that need me.” “What about Jack?” “My boyfriend is taller.”

Random notebook dump: Can we just get rid of Roseland already, or at least limit its sludgy, dreadfully echo-filled interior to use during DeadMau5 residencies?

Set list:
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Missing Pieces
Sixteen Saltines
Hypocritical Kiss
I Cut Like a Buffalo
Top Yourself
Two Against One
Black Math
Hello Operator
Weep Themselves to Sleep
You Know That I Know
Ball and Biscuit

Freedom At 21
Steady As She Goes
Take Me With You When You Go
Catch Hell Blues
Seven Nation Army