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Saturday, 23 June 2012

Jack White

I’d seen Jack White live before last night but, in some ways, didn’t feel like I truly had.

It began with having tickets for the ill-fated final White Stripes UK tour in 2007, cancelled due to Meg White’s acute anxiety. I've since seen The Raconteurs from great distant in a fairly muted mid-afternoon main stage slot at Reading Festival, and have twice seen Jack plays drums in The Dead Weather. 

But I’ve longed to see him front and centre, axe in hand as he was meant to be. News of his solo album was a welcome break amid fears he was losing his identity through his endless collaborating and his roles as producer/record label owner/gun for hire. It also presented the best opportunity in a number of years to see Jack White live. 

Set lists from his show at the HMV Forum in April and his American tour in May also suggested a perfect blend of solo, Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather material. Almost a greatest hits set.

And so, with a critically lauded solo album to add to his back catalogue and the intriguing possibility of which backing band he would use, Jack White took to the stage at the Hammersmith Apollo last night (22 June) as a genuinely exciting prospect.

The first question was answered when The Peacocks, Jack’s all female backing band, took to the stage. Six strong (drums, double bass, pedal steel, fiddle, organ/piano and backing vocals), they create a semi circle around the stage and build for Jack’s arrival with a flurry of noise.

Jack casually walks on, barely reacting to absolute hysteria of the crowd and immediately rips into the raucous Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground. When he stands still, which isn’t often, he is lit from the front, casting a thirty-foot shadow on the back of the stage that is a fairly accurate representation of his now towering stature.

Three Blunderbuss songs follow, kicking off with opening track Missing Pieces before singles Sixteen Saltines and Love Interruption, the latter of which sees backing singer Ruby Amanfu seductively sharing Jack’s mic front and centre. Her excellent vocals are a feature of the gig, giving Jack time to throw himself around with abandon.

From the get go, the other Peacock most prominent is drummer Carla Azar. Situated at the front of one end of the semi-circle, on Jack’s right hand side, she is the antithesis of Meg White, brilliantly quickening and complicating every song, making use of her entire kit with constant frantic beats.

Four songs in he stops momentarily to ask 'Are you awake now London?', the screaming replies have barely died down before he rips into Hotel Yorba, perhaps the best example of the way his new band have taken White Stripes songs and evolved them. With added fiddle and pedal steel guitar, Yorba becomes a stomping hoedown of a song that has people out of their seats and literally dancing in the aisles.

After seven frenzied songs and barely a breath, Jack puts down his guitar and takes to the piano to play a country section featuring Guess I Should Go To Sleep and a Hank Williams cover.

White Stripes numbers I’m Slowly Turning Into You and an evolved Ball and Biscuit close the first set, with Jack bouncing around his semicircle of support before casting his guitar down in a howl of feedback. He strides off stage to get a few moments of recovery before the energetic encore.

He arrives back on stage flanked by his Peacocks and after warming his fingers and fret up again bursts into Freedom at 21, the current single from Blunderbuss.

He hisses 'You still awake London?' before introducing The Peacocks, revealing its the debut show of the double bassist. Said Peacock then gets the gig going again with the recognisable bass intro of The Raconteurs' Steady, As She Goes. A highlight of the set, it is quickened and slowed several times, extended and punctured by two blistering solos.

Throughout the gig, Jack demonstrates why he is without doubt one of the world's best players. He wails, shreds, plucks and coaxes every possible sound out of his instrument and doesn’t miss a chance to do so.

The encore is eased a touch with Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy and We're Going To Be Friends, which has the cute feel of the final slow number at a school disco with Jack's soft vocals and dimmed lights.

By the final flurry of songs, which include Stripes favourites My Doorbell and the unofficial anthem of Euro 2012 Seven Nation Army, I’ve pretty much run out of superlatives, so don’t even try to describe them. Needless to the say the gig finishes with a bang.

It was a sad day when The White Stripes confirmed they would not be returning in 2010 for those who had never seen them live, but last night’s performance went some way to softening the blow.

Support on the night came from First Aid Kit, the latest band off Sweden’s conveyor belt of cool, though until they speak you could be forgiven for thinking they hail from the American south.

Their brand of country folk was perfectly pitched to set the scene for Jack, and their set of songs from second album A Lion’s Roar was short, sweet and hugely enjoyable. The best way I could describe them would be as a female Fleet Foxes, in that they create beautiful harmonies and outstanding volume for just two sisters.

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