Jack White: A Masterclass In Hard-Riffing Blues

“I talked to my mother today and she said don’t come home unless you’ve got a Polish wife,” Jack White told the thousands watching him headline Gdynia’s Open’er Festival last night (July 4). “So I’m on the prowl tonight!” Attempting to chirpse an entire audience with lines like that has the unfortunate effect of making White come across a tiny bit like rock’s answer to Robin Thicke, but flirty chat aside his set was a masterclass in hard riffing blues. Drenched in his now distinctive blue light, his pale-faced, dark-haired band looked like Kiss but without the make-up (As a great bard from Stoke-On-Trent once said). He apologised for a bit of a sore throat, but that didn’t stop hip rapping, rasping and of course wringing riffs out of his guitar. He’s Jack of all trades, master of at least two, and here are five of the best moments from the Willy Wonka of Nashville’s set:

Jack The Rapper
Jack White’s been many things over the years – from an arch-revivalist to a technological innovator – but it’s only in recent years that we’ve seen a man who has most closely been associated with trad blues rock start letting the influence of hip-hop find its way into his music. It’s there in the staccato delivery of ‘Lazaretto’ and it’s there when he slips a couple of lines from Jay Z’s ’99 Problems’ into old White Stripes tune ‘Astro’. No cover of Kanye’s ‘Black Skinhead’ tonight though, sadly.

Open’er Does What It’s Told
Jack’s great when he’s strangling a riff out of a helpless guitar, but he’s maybe at his best when he lets a little space and quiet into his music. There’s a great example of this when he returns to The White Stripes’ ‘Icky Thump’ track ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)’, letting the crowd sing the second half of the refrain back to him.


We’re All Friends Now
Similarly, when Jack duets with Lillie Mae Rische (introduced as hailing “from parts unknown” – Jack White does love a cloudy origin story) on early White Stripes classic ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’ it’s a proper singalong, goose-bump-prickling festival moment.

You Can Have One Drink, But Steady As You Go
After dipping way back into The White Stripes’ catalogue, it’s two newer songs that get the crowd’s adrenaline coursing during the last third of the set. Recent single ‘Just One Drink’, which opens: “You drink water / I drink gasoline / One of us is happy / One of us is mean / I love you, but honey why don’t you love me?” is ‘Blonde On Blonde’-era Dylan hotwired for 2014, while Raconteurs track ‘Steady As She Goes’ sounds as mighty as anything else White’s ever written.

National Service
One of Open’er Festival’s defining characteristics is the almost spooky chorography with which the mainstage audience manages to bounce in perfect time with each other. They must have been training for months. They’ve done it for a few bands this year, but they were born to pogo to ‘Seven Nation Army’. Where Jack White found that riff only he and God know, but it’s become his signature and when he and his band pause and he sings the chorus over just the sound of the audience hollering the guitar part at the top of their lungs, you’ll forgive him all the rubbish chat-up lines in the world.