Sunday, August 12, 2012

Friday Night White

Jack White
Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California
August 10, 2012

Umlaut has been finding himself in Los Angeles quite a bit this year and I have to say L.A. isn't that bad in controlled doses. One of the benefits has been that I've seen several concerts that have coincided with my visits. This week it was Jack White, which no doubt blows whatever Metal cred I have left, but fuck it.  I'm too old to worry about what other people think about my record collection.  I've come to think Jack White is one of the few bona fide Rock Stars going these days. I know alot of folks blow him off as just another "hipster musician" who plays vintage instruments, but for my money he has the musical chops and legitimate knowledge of music history to channel something special into his music.  Does this mean I have to turn in my Watain CDs to the Metal Style Police?

Umlaut was into the White Stripes early on, I saw them a couple of times, but then I grew disenchanted with the band once they (1) started getting so enormously popular and (2) I grew weary of Meg White's one-dimensional drumming style. I didn't like The Raconteurs but I dove head first into Dead Weather fandom and also saw them twice.  Jack White seems to have now come to terms with being the complete focus of something, instead of simply a member of a band, and his latest solo album has been in heavy rotation for me in recent months.

The Shrine Auditorium is on the USC campus and I guess the Academy Awards used to take place there. It's one of those ancient venues that reeks history and charm, but it also feels dusty and musty. The interior reminded me of The Fox Theatre in Oakland and I assume both buildings date from the same era; the atmosphere was perfect for tonight's headliner. The crowd was an interesting crossover of hipsters, regular folks, older folks, younger folks, and even a couple of dudes wearing Pantera and Slayer tees. No, I was NOT one of them; I don't own any Pantera shirts.  It was nice to see a couple of other Metal types in the house.

As I said earlier, I consider White to be one of the few musicians right now who has a legit old school Rock Star vibe and the chops to back that up.  When he stormed onstage into the set opener 'Sixteen Saltines' and then into the White Stripes song 'Black Math' my opinion was not changed. His 5-piece band (drums, bass, 2 multi-instrumentalists, keyboards) was old school Rock, Country, and Blues tight and they gave the old White Stripes songs the punch and depth they sometimes lacked. It was impressive and it reminded me how heavy and deep of a groove this style of music can lay down like no other. The heavy groove was tempered by that kind of loose swagger that makes the best Classic Rock so great (early-Rolling Stones, Humble Pie, Zeppelin...) and so timeless. It's something that can't be taught to a musician; they either have it or they don't. White has it... and his drummer was one of the best that I've seen in awhile.  I didn't catch his name during the band intros so if anybody can give me his background let me know. 

The band was arranged around White, with the drums in the front at stage right, and White paced the area like a caged animal to lock in with each of his backing musicians.  While he was on guitar most of the time, he also jumped over to the piano for a couple songs.  The vibe coming off the stage made the volume even more thick with atmosphere.

I hope the older woman who was dressed like Meg White circa-2002 (red t-shirt, red pants, dark long hair with bangs) didn't have an aneurysm when the first White Stripes song was played. To be honest, she looked too old to be dressing like that.  Awkward.  Anyway, for those who keep score, White did 7 White Stripes songs, 1 Dead Weather song, and a couple of Raconteurs songs but I only knew one of those. The main set closing White Stripes double shot of 'Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground' into 'The Hardest Button to Button' was the high point for me, but the entire 18 song / 80 minute set was easily one of my favorites of 2012 so far.

Trivia: Umlaut bought a White Stripes shirt at a 2002 show.  If you bought one of every Jack White merch item you would have paid around $200, with half of it being vinyl records including a tour-only 7" set. I liked that. On the way back to the rental car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. The next day Metallica played their hometown headline set at this year's Outside Lands Festival and Agalloch returned to San Francisco.. but I was nowhere near either of those Metal shows... and I was at peace with that.