HMV FORUM, London, April 23
So here he is, back from nowhere land, in front of a UK audience for the first time as a solo artist. Around him is an all-female band on drums, double bass, steel slide guitar, violin, tambourine and organ. Jack’s in black, the band are in pale blue dresses, and behind him on a stage drop are three enormous white stripes. There’s no red. All of that is gone.
It’s the day Jack White’s album ‘Blunderbuss’ is out, but he’s a contrary bugger, so opens with ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’, given the full band treatment, with “I didn’t feel so bad until the sun went down” handed over to backing singer Ruby Amanfu. With Jack having recently divorced his wife, there’s something harem-like about his band. He approaches them during songs, like he used to with Meg, and looks them in the eyes. It’s sexually suggestive, a bit ‘treating his wives equally’ and, as his ambiguous sister/wife relationship with Meg was, perverse. But that’s his thing. He’s a weirdo. A beautiful freak. And when he tears through ‘Freedom at 21’, ‘Missing Pieces’ and ‘Love Interruption’ (all from ‘Blunderbuss’), we’re reminded how much better he is on his own than in The Dead Weather or The Raconteurs.
He plays ‘Top Yourself’ from his time with the latter, but it’s unfamiliar to the crowd and drags, so when ‘Hotel Yorba’ busts out the Forum creaks into action. There’s a violin solo, and the original’s punk undertones are replaced with a hop, skip and a shuffle. Part of the intrigue of seeing White this summer will be which White Stripes songs he rolls out. The opening riff to ‘Screwdriver’ gets a brief and ferocious airing, before turning into The Dead Weather’s ‘Blue Blood Blues’, which itself morphs into ‘Ball And Biscuit’, at which point Jack allows himself the freedom for a searing guitar solo before strolling offstage.
They return, of course, for one of ‘Blunderbuss’’ highlights, ‘Sixteen Saltines’, which is an updated version of ‘The Hardest Button To Button’ injected with HELL. As he yelps “Who’s jealous who’s jealous who’s jealous of who”, it feels like he’s goading the women around him. He hops onto the piano for ‘Take Me With You When You Go’, before a rocked-up ‘My Doorbell’. An epic (long) and dramatic (boring) version of The Raconteurs’ ‘Carolina Drama’ follows, but it’s not what anyone’s here for. The crunching and gritty opening notes of ‘Seven Nation Army’ absolutely are, which he turns into something grand as the leader of his own seven-person army. The night ends on ‘Goodnight Irene’, a Lead Belly classic that leaves a cloud of innocence in the air after the delicious sordidness of everything before it. Jack’s back, and he’s got company.