Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jack White @ The Ryman (Concert Review)

While most artists spend their time trying to do one thing really well, there are a select few who seem to do everything really well. In his multi-layered, multi-storied musical career, Jack White has not only masterfully fronted 3 successfully innovative bands, he has also just released his first (and recently certified #1) solo album, Blunderbuss. Kicking off his subsequent solo tour with a two-night stand at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, Jack gave each of his equally talented, yet uniquely vibed backing bands a night to shine. Tuesday night’s show featured Los Buzzardos, Jack’s all-male band and Wednesday night’s show featured The Peacocks, his all female band. Reports of Tuesday’s show mentioned all kinds of swagger and bravado, so I was prepared for Wednesday’s show to be a little more laid back and mellow. While the night understandably had a few quieter moments than the previous show, the ladies were certainly no shrinking violets or sonic wallflowers. They complemented Jack’s explosive energy and answered each of his ringleader requests with tasty solos, cohesive playing and creative musicianship. Ever the fantastical frontman, Jack smiled, danced, shrieked and jumped around as he held court in the hallowed hall with a 19 song set that included tracks from Blunderbuss and select cuts from The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. With each barked lyric, singalong chorus and fiery guitar solo, Jack continually reminded us all why he’s one of the most talented and most creative musical legends of our time. To set the night off right, Jack chose the five-piece classic soul rockers Alabama Shakes as his opener. Led by the magnetic Brittany Howard, whose voice and stage persona fall somewhere between Otis Redding, James Brown and Janis Joplin, Alabama Shakes rocked and boogied through a great set that warmed the crowd up into an excited frenzy. 
As the stage crew started removing the light blue drop cloths from the drums, amps, piano and keyboards, the buzz in the place was palpable and electric. With each minute that ticked away, the anticipation for the festivities that lay ahead increased and by the time the elegantly dressed Peacocks started (wo)maning their stations, the place genuinely erupted. Jack, ever the dapper gentleman, sauntered out in a snazzy, custom light blue suit, strapped up with a gorgeous light blue B-Bender Telecaster and instigated a full band crescendo that exploded into Blunderbuss opener “Missing Pieces.” As the stark white backdrop fell and Jack’s blue-on-black “III” logo lit up, the band sounded fresh and excitable and the enthusiastic crowd responded appreciatively. “Missing Pieces” held the first of many amazing fiddle solos of the night, showcasing one of Jack’s secret weapons hidden within The Peacocks. Next up was the bombastic “Sixteen Saltines,” quickly putting to rest any “quieter, mellower” questions. The ferocious energy contained within “Sixteen Saltines” found Jack roaming the stage like a caged tiger, ripping through a guitar solo that sounded even more amazing with his B-Bender tricks. A double-timed “Black Math” followed and gorgeously threatened to derail at any moment. For the first White Stripes cover of the night, it was super cool to see Jack interact with the drummer in such a “tip of the hat” kind of way. As Jack exchanged the raging Tele for a stunning acoustic, the next trio of songs displayed the softer, refined side of Jack’s songwriting. “Love Interruption,” “Weep Themselves To Sleep” and “Top Yourself” each had their special moments, like killer fiddle and pedal steel solos and Jack sharing the microphone with the enigmatic Ruby Amanfu. It was during this time that Jack addressed the crowd for the first time with a sly, “How you doing Nashville?” to eruptive response. When Jack grabbed the Tele again, he amped things up a little more with passionate tromps through “Hypocritical Kiss,” a Tom Petty-esque take on “You’re Pretty Good Looking For A Girl” and a tasty “Blue Blood Blues.”

At this point, Jack took off his jacket and took a seat behind the piano for a spirited take on “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and a Jerry Lee Lewis-flavored “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep.” It’s no secret that Jack’s a ferocious guitar player, but his impressive piano skills aren’t anything to balk at either. After these two Ruby-heavy piano numbers, Jack snatched up the acoustic again for a perfectly appropriate run through his collaboration with Hank Williams’ songbook, “You Know That I Know.” Hearing Jack sing a Hank Williams song in The Ryman is seriously about as good as it musically gets, especially when it was followed up by “Hotel Yorba,” one of my all-time favorite White Stripes songs. It was totally a personal euphoric moment for me and judging by the crowd-led last verse, I think everyone else liked it too.

When Jack picked up the Tele up for the third time, his escalating guitar showmanship was picking up speed. The slow burn intro and turnarounds of “I’m Finding It Harder To Be a Gentleman,” the great riffs of “Steady As She Goes” and the slinky sashay of “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” all featured some seriously insane guitar work. As Jack played the last notes and let the rumble and feedback squeal out, everyone left the stage to thunderous applause and shouts for an encore. In my opinion, the crowd could’ve been louder and more appreciative for the amazing show we had just been blessed with, but alas, I could only do my part. After a few minutes, everyone came back out, the “III” logo switched to black-on-blue and Jack asked “Are ya’ll awake out there?” At this point, it’s hard to find the appropriate words to describe the volatile fervor and fury with which Jack played the last few songs. “Freedom at 21” was a frantic concussion, “The Hardest Button to Button” was sledgehammer heavy and “Ball and Biscuit” was genuinely one of the most jaw-dropping live music moments I’ve ever witnessed. Jack played like a man possessed, ripping up the guitar, tearing through the drums and playing one of the most gloriously Jack-stamped guitar solos filled with some of the most beautiful tones and squeals he’s ever conjured up. After he finished playing, he enthusiastically dropped the guitar and quickly exited the stage before the crowd knew the magical night was complete. I’ve seen some pretty incredible shows, even some really special ones there at The Ryman, but there is absolutely nothing that can equate to the experience of a Jack White show. His immense talent, deep catalog of incredible songs and spontaneous moments of transport all blend together in a singular, non-reproducible musical adventure that embeds itself into your heart and brain in a way that will stick with you as long as your memory holds out.           

Set List:
- Missing Pieces
- Sixteen Saltines
- Black Math (The White Stripes)
- Love Interruption
- Weep Themselves to Sleep
- Top Yourself (The Raconteurs)
- Hypocritical Kiss
- You're Pretty Good Looking For A Girl (The White Stripes)
- Blue Blood Blues (The Dead Weather)
- Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes)
- I Guess I Should Go To Sleep 
- You Know That I Know (Hank Williams cover)
- Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes)
- I'm Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman (The White Stripes)
- Steady As She Goes (The Raconteurs)
- I'm Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes)
*Encore Break*
- Freedom at 21
- The Hardest Button To Button (The White Stripes)
- Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes)

(Photos courtesy of Amanda Hodge)

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