Monday, September 26, 2005

Highway to hell.

Jack White may be ordering Satan to get behind him these days, but it didn't seem like he was battling any demons on Saturday night at keyspan Park in Coney Island. Instead he seemed plugged root-deep into his own talents and inspirations and able to draw freely on all that power to play a nonstop 100-minute show that electrified the entire ballpark. He segued from song to song without pausing, raced around the stage between guitars, organ, piano, and mandolin - and even rocked the marimba on a surprisingly loud and satisfying version of "The Nurse."

The emphasis was on rawness, and many of the songs were taken at breakneck speed with jagged whelps of disortion spraying from the amps and Meg White bashing away like she was in a Minor threat cover band. Jack has mastered the trick of making his one guitar sound like (at least) two people playing at once and used an octaver to summon the brown sound bass usually reserved for techno clubs. His insanely unhinged slide playing on "Death Letter" was dubbed by my pal Kurt as "Duane Allman gone to hell and come back with a nasty meth habit." The rest of the solos were two parts Jimmy Page, one part Link Wray, and one part Greg Ginn. Ferocious slabs of riff but still sculpted and nuanced. He hollared and teased out the lyrics, knee deep in every sentiment.

Yes, there's still only two of them, so coasting wasn't an option. The band - and duh, Jack in particular - seem to be riding some creative high right now. He seems like an effortless conduit for the music he wants to conjure - mixing blues, garage, punk, country, bluegrass, soul, and even some electronica into something distinctly his own. He's turned into a majorly charismatic (and weird looking - he's still sporting the Michael Jackson gone hasdic look) rock star, but one of the most uncompromising I can think of. People still talk shit about Meg's drumming, but it's more clear than ever that she gives the band that necessary primal punk edge needed to ground his virtuosity and keep it honest. Anyone who can't see that by now just doesn't get their music at some fundamental level. Plus, when Jack eventually goes solo, it won't be as good. Why? History, for one thing. Can you name an artist who made their name in a band and then went on to do even better work as a solo artist?!! (Art says "Peter Gabriel." Kurt, who actually likes early Genesis, isn't so sure. Myself, I don't really care that much for either phase of his career.)

One of the best things about the show was seeing how much the white Stripes have improved in the last five years. (And thanks to Art and Ellen for the free tickets and encouragement to give the band another chance). I walked out on the band's free Hudson pier show right around the time the great White Blood Cells was released. Jack stood stock still and stared at feet while playing listless five minute guitar solos that went nowhere. Meg seemed like she was in a Shaggs cover band. Maybe it was an off night, but there was no spark. Saturday night's performance was a different order of magnitude altogether. Same two people, but an entirely different band.


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