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The Roundhouse, London, September 8

Jack White

Jack White may finally have flown the coop and gone solo, but he’s got more baggage than ever: emotionally, with the bitter finger-wagging of his debut ‘Blunderbuss’; and literally, with the swelling of his musical rank-and-file from two to 11, as Jack’s brought both a guy-band and a girl-band on tour for shows this year.

With Jack, talk always turns to the company he’s keeping and the quality of the music they produce. Despite the solo billing, tonight’s show is a tale of two bands. First up, The Buzzards (all guys)... and what to say other than they make us pine after Meg White, hard? They’re led by drummer Daru Jones, whose flailing octopus impression is totally unnecessary (no two bars the same!), and an organist who clutters up ‘Missing Pieces’ and Stripes classic ‘Black Math’ (the latter reinvented in sprawling fashion). Then there’s the faintly tragic sight of a fiddle player sawing manically away through a bunch of songs to no discernible effect.

Jack, meanwhile, seems in diffident form, his only noteworthy aside a grumpy line about how everyone at the show would be receiving a free iPhone (this being the iTunes Festival and all). Even his guitar work, ‘freed’ from the burden of shouldering the weight of the music, feels a bit flat, and it’s only on early material like ‘Hello Operator’ and ‘Wasting My Time’ that he comes close to conjuring the magic we’ve come to expect from him. By the time the first half draws to a close with ‘Blunderbuss’, the atmosphere is disappointingly muted.

Thank god, then, for The Peacocks (all girls), whose empathetic style goes some way to putting restraint and sly chemistry back on the menu in part two. Drummer Carla Azar, on loan from LA cosmic rockers Autolux, is balm to the ears after Jones’ flash-git chops. She swings like Meg and lends ‘The Hardest Button To Button’ and ‘I’m Slowly Turning Into You’ just the right measure of danger. Material from ‘Blunderbuss’ fares slightly less well: ‘Love Interruption’ is a weak tune no matter what quirky arrangements are thrown at it, while ‘Hypocritical Kiss’ loses its grandiosity when Jack steals the big piano flourishes for his guitar – whoops.

For the encore, ‘Seven Nation Army’ retains its power to rouse, despite being churlishly offered on an electro-acoustic. A messy affair, then, but you get the impression Jack’s still sussing out this solo business. Maybe start by ditching the muso vibes and rocking like a flaming bastard from hell instead?

Alex Denney Buy Jack White at iTunes

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