Jack White @ Place Bell

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Tonight’s show is a total throwback to gig-going 20 years ago, in more ways than one.  

Firstly, of course, it’s Jack White, one of the most important and prolific musicians of the past 25 years.  I was fortunate enough to see The White Stripes a few times in their heyday, the first-ever show by The Raconteurs in Liverpool, England, as well as The Dead Weather here in Montreal, so it feels like Jack and I go a ways back!  I am beyond excited to catch him solo for the first time.

Secondly, in terms of throwbacks, there is the no-phone policy Jack has instituted of late at his shows.  Upon arrival, our phones are locked into an iPad-mini-sized pouch that we carry around with us for the duration of the show.  I have a seat, so no biggie for me, but I feel for those on the floor who have to stand with it all night; it’s obviously too big for a pocket in your jeans.  It’s quite surreal to see the dark space of Place Bell remain dark, both during and between bands; show openers July Talk get the full attention of everyone in the room because quite frankly, there’s nothing else to do.  Which is awesome for everyone involved, and a timely reminder that gigs witnessed through eyeballs are far more memorable than those viewed through phone cameras.

On the downside though, as a reviewer, I rely on my phone to make my notes.  I successfully dig out a small notepad and pen before leaving my house, but the ultra-dim light of the show coupled with my chicken-scratch handwriting render my in-show notes somewhat analogous to hieroglyphics when attempts are made to decipher them in the cold light of the next day.  So I guess I am going from memory for this one!

Its perhaps indicative of a desire to break away from his White Stripes roots and desire to forge his own identity that the artwork of all 4 of Jack’s solo albums released so far is themed in a blue-grey colourway, in stark contrast to the red-white-black of basically everything The White Stripes ever did.  Indeed, the stage setup tonight is completely blue too.  I mean, even Jack’s hair is light blue these days.  Or is that just blue light bouncing off peroxide bleach?  It’s hard to tell.  An enormous blue curtain covers the stage from floor to ceiling, and as the scuzzy opening bars of Taking Me Back cut through the silence to kick off the show, silhouettes flash onto it from behind as it rises to reveal the man of the hour and his band.  Or maybe it’s more like 2 hours in total?  Again, with no phone and no watch, I lose track of time entirely.  

However long it is, it’s an amazing show.  4 solo albums in, you realize that Jack’s solo stuff stands by itself as a solid body of work.  Over and Over and Over is every bit as frantic live as it is on record, and Freedom At 21 and Sixteen Saltines, which both appear during one of the greatest encores in modern history, are bona fide jewels in the set.  Love is Selfish, from his upcoming 5th solo record Entering Heaven Alive (due next July) is a much more mellow proposition, and merges seamlessly into a cover of U2’s 1991 song Love is Blindness, so seamlessly I hadn’t even realized it was 2 separate songs until I read up on the show afterwards.

Early fears that maybe Jack was done with his White Stripes material are obliterated nice and early in the set, as the monster distorted riffs of Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground scream out 4 songs in.  I commented to my wife over dinner how much I would lose my mind if he played The Hardest Button To Button that night; well, my mind was well and truly lost midway through the set, as that pounding bass drum detonates into that unmistakable dirty riff, and by the time verse 2 describes how Babys crying sounded like an earthquake, it kinda feels one of those is shaking Place Bell right now too.  The aforementioned encore is equally seismic, as My Doorbell, Fell In Love With A Girl, and the timeless Seven Nation Army all show their faces, as well as the only offering from The Raconteurs catalog in the form of the epic narrative Carolina Drama.  After the last bars of Seven Nation Army triumphantly ring out, Jack and his band take a bow as the giant blue curtain slowly falls to close out the best show of 2022 so far.  Without question, a truly unforgettable evening.

Review – Simon Williams
Photos – David James Swanson

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