Jack White at Mad Cool: a honky-tonk ‘Hotel Yorba’, and a true great on the fieriest of form

This might be the most divisive incarnation of Jack White yet: bathed in blue light, playing a set heavy on tracks from his latest (and third) solo album, ‘Boarding House Reach’, which – although NME loved – received a mixed reception from fans and critics. A headliner in a non-headliner set at Madrid’s toploaded Mad Cool festival (Arctic Monkeys are yet to play tonight), White’s wings have been clipped somewhat this year.

But get this: this is the best Jack White has been in years. The freedom of ‘Boarding House Reach’ seems to have unleashed something in the former White Stripes man; like latter-period Dylan, he speaks only in utterly incomprehensible drawl and an accent that isn’t quite his own (“Y’all look beautiful tonight,” he says at one point, “and the guys ain’t bad looking either”). And like latter-period Dylan he does his own thing and haters be damned because, well, he’s Jack White, motherfucker. So ‘Hotel Yorba’ is on the setlist but not as we’ve heard it before: it’s a honky tonk jam, his bandmate hammering the 88s like it’s Friday night at the Jack White Saloon and no one’s started smashing chairs yet.

White’s latest album is his most experimental yet; where previous two solo albums (‘Lazaretto’ and ‘Blunderbuss’) felt like felt like White Stripes albums missing Meg’s rudimentary tub-thumping, ‘Boarding House Reach’ feels like White stretching himself, playing, experimenting. And his stage show is joyous. Indulgent at times, sure, but bombastic and far-reaching. The stage persona is larger than life, like a Johnny Depp playing a deranged rocker in some aborted Tim Burton film, lights always glowing blue, screens displaying vintage radio signal iconography or a blue moon or simply Jack strutting his considerable stuff.

A highlight comes with ‘Boarding House Reach’ track ‘Connected By Love’, without doubt one of the best tracks of White’s solo career, a proper rumbling rocker that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dazed & Confused soundtrack. But that old material blends in beautifully too: a tender ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’, a raucous version of Raconteurs track ‘Steady As She Goes’. It’s Jack White’s greatest hits played by his best ever band (though we do still miss Meg). The show, for each of its 90 minutes, is effortless magic, an audience with an artist who’s clearly found his mojo again. And it’s in Spain, and not a single tosser is chanting “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” at him from the crowd (within NME’s earshot at least), even when he closes on a fist-pumping ‘Seven Nation Army’.

His audience may have thinned a little, but anyone who’s fallen out of love with the power of an amped-up guitar should see White live – and soon.