Not being all too thrilled with Jack White’s latest album („Lazaretto“), I did not pay very much attention to his tour dates. When I found out that he was going to come to Vienna, however, all the tickets were sold out, of course. To my luck, I found somebody who sold his ticket to me last minute.
The support, Lucius, was already playing the last songs when I entered the hall. To be honest, I was not convinced. They sounded very artificial, and I could not exactly identify the style they were trying to head at. It was something Indie-Pop-like.
It was after a few minutes that I actually saw them: two female (twins?) singers, looking identically, plus musicians, who were supposed to lead the crowd into a great rock night. But neither the band nor the audience seemed particularly interested in making that part of the show something special. Honestly: Lucius was one of those support groups that you can skip without regret.
The main act was planned to start at 21:00. After a delay of about twenty minutes, a memorable announcement was made on stage. The speaker talked of the band being happy to play in Vienna, and informed the audience about the fact that professional photographies would be taken throughout the whole concert. These would then be uploaded a.s.a.p. after the show and available for free downloading on Jack White’s website. He explained that this arrangement was made in order not to have phones pointing up from the audience the whole time, because „that thing in your hand is not nearly as good as what you can see with your eyes, and listen to with your heart.“
A few minutes later, the curtain was drawn, revealing a simple stage-set flooded with blue light. There were no banners or animations (not even the screens beside the stage were switched on), everything was being kept simple.
Jack White, supported by four other musicians, started with a few fast rock songs. That was principally a good way to start, but the thing is that the location (Gasometer Wien) has a truly horrible sound. Jack White’s guitar, as well as the other instruments, sounded really dry. You simply did not have the sound you could have had at another location where the acoustics and technicians are better. Because of that, the songs (and soli) lost a lot of power and/or were not pleasant to listen to, and therefore tiring.
The band continued with a few Country songs, which were really great, because they made such a nice contrast to the other style(s) the guys were playing. During one song, Jack White even sat down on a piano chair (with his guitar still in hand!) and kept switching instruments back and forth. Even before the singer told the audience about it, you could already hear the influence from Nashville, the city he lives in now. At one stage, when he introduced all the band members to the audience, he explained different sounds and styles, accompanied by a solo of the musician currently presented, depending from where they originally come from.
The band went off stage after 45 minutes, but came back to play an encore (if you can actually still call it that) that lasted almost two hours. The spirit of the band, as well as their endurance, is to be highly praised. Nevertheless: people were getting tired, and so was the band. What you saw when you looked around yourself were static, sometimes even bored faces, and a band that gradually lost its energy. Toward the end, even though it did not seem like they didn’t enjoy playing, they were simply out of fuel. Many songs sounded quite alike, or had outros that were simply too long, which was particularly tiring because of the bad sound I mentioned before. Instead of including a few more full songs, there was a lot of instrumental improvisation going on. Not that I’m not a fan of that, but in this case it was mostly dull repetition. The best songs, in my mind, were Steady, As She Goes (by The Raconteurs), Whispering Sea (a Loretta Lynn cover), and especially the White Stripes’ track My Doorbell.
Down to Seven Nation Army business: of course he played it. Of course it was the last number. Of course the audience went mad. But, honestly, it should have come before. I could not tell whether he played it just because it was expected of him, or whether he actually enjoyed it. By keeping the song short, however, and sort of „overriding“ it, not paying a lot of attention to neither vocals nor guitar, the song did not turn out to be the climax of the evening.
The thing that really did impress me, however, was the things Jack White told the audience. He started his nostalgic notions by stating how no average teenager of today could tell „what makes the sound on a record“, and listed several examples of today’s trivial artists such as Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. What he did is remember everybody in the hall what music is really about, and that most of it is going in a wrong direction.
I went out of the venue with mixed emotions that night. On the one hand I struggled with my unfulfilled expectations, while on the other I felt Jack White had really brought that sense of spirit and musical purity among the audience of what this form of art is actually and truly about. It is thus no wonder that Robert Plant has communicated the wish to record a single with Jack White (apparently Love Me, originally by The Phantom). The two musicians really make a perfect match, ideologically as well as musically.
The thing that’s left for me to say: I do not regret having gone to this show. Just by having been part of the audience, you got the feeling that Jack White actually cherished your being there, as a part of where the real stuff happens.
Hopefully he managed to also bring the same sort of inspiration to students (since he participated in a roundtable discussion on The Rise And Fall of „Paramount Records“ on October 28th at Yale University).
© Jack White Official
© RIFF SHIFT