Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rock heaven: Jack White and Alabama Shakes at the Roseland, NYC

A sort-of review of Jack White's May 22 gig at NYC's Roseland Ballroom.

Long time readers of Bland Canyon know that I have what could be called "a mild crush" on rock star Jack White.

Actually, to call it "a mild crush" would be rather like describing September 11 as "a bit of a bad day"; I am utterly obsessed with him to the point of embarrassing myself.

Seriously, just looking at this photo makes me need to lie down. I'm not actually joking.

I've written about him a lot on here: About the time I got to see him and Bob Dylan in concert and almost fainted from delight, about how I wanted to do things to him even when he went through that weird Spanish Willy Wonka phase, how he turned me on as a Simpsons character and also is basically God, and a dream I had in which I lied to his band mate about being poisoned by bad prawns. That was a weird one.

So I like to think it was serendipity when one day a few months ago I thought "I wonder if Jack White's doing any shows anywhere?" and discovered tickets to his two New York shows at the Roseland Ballroom were going on sale the very next morning. SNAP! It was meant to be, etc. etc.

So it was that last night Barilski (the man responsible for introducing me to the White Stripes and starting this whole mess) and I trotted off to 52nd Street and walked under this marquee, feeling very smug and superior as sad-eyed people outside murmured "Do you have any spares?"

YEAH, I have a spare ticket to a sold-out show which hundreds of people are willing to sell their internal organs to get into, and I didn't think to scalp it before going inside. YOU'RE SMART.

That last pic is the only one I actually have from last night because the audience was requested not to take photographs during the concert.

"Jack asks that you all put your phones and cameras away and just enjoy the music - there will be professional photos available for you to download from his website," they announced.

My first reaction to this was "WHAT THE F***?", quickly followed by "Actually, that's a great idea." 

Remember the days before mobile phone cameras when people at concerts used to, you know, listen to the music instead of trying to take shitty pictures of everything? Jack White does, and he'd like to go back there thanks. And I'm with him. Because you know what, if Jack White tells you to do something, YOU DO IT, BEEYATCH.

Did I buy merch? YOU BET YOUR SWEET ONE I DID. I bought a T shirt, natch. Meanwhile, here are some Jack White lyrics I would like to have a on a T shirt, none of which was available on any T shirts sold last night:

I actually think the top three would sell quite well.
(I REALLY DO want that first one though.)

Enough about merch - HOW WAS THE SHOW? Pfft. Do you really need to ask?


The mood was set by the warm up band, blues rockers the Alabama Shakes, whose lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard was so incendiary the mic almost caught fire. I have decided that if I can't marry Jack White, I would like to marry her, please. She sounded like the love child of a three-way between Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone and Janis Joplin, and sang like her life depended on it - wailing, howling and shaking while absolutely shredding her guitar. 

You've never seen a chick in glasses rock so fucking hard. (Photo source)

As you may have guessed from the title, "warm up bands" are supposed to warm up the crowd, not douse them in kerosene and set them on fire. This was unprecedented. When they left the stage Barilski and I both looked at each other and said "Jack White's going to have to put in some effort to top that." 

Yes, for a moment we both doubted the world's greatest guitar player and king of rock MIGHT not better the Alabama Shakes - THAT'S HOW GOOD THEY WERE.

And then. THEN. The lights dimmed, the hot all-lady band The Peacocks wandered out and then....

OH HAI. (Picture source)
(Side note: I think this was from an earlier concert on this tour, but this is how he looked last night)

With the release of his first solo album Blunderbuss Jack has dropped the traditional red, white and black colour scheme he adopted with the White Stripes and reinvented himself in blue. Dressed in a 1960s-style, slim-fitting blue mod suit and black shirt the six-foot-two guitar god looked... well, I think you can guess how this slick outfit made me feel.

A bit like this.

Without a word he came straight out the gate with the blistering Sixteen Saltines before busting into Missing Pieces which his drummer kindly fucked up for everyone, forcing Jack to sing weirdly off beat for the whole first verse. Sadly he didn't kick the drums over or smash a guitar over her head or anything rock and roll like that; instead he subtly and very professionally pulled a guitar solo, reset the song and kept going. Nice work, Jack.

"Hello New York! What do you want me to play?" he asked, as everyone screamed.

"Tell me what to play and I'll play it!" 

Play anything you damn well like, my lover. (Photo source)

He threw in plenty of nuggets for the long time fans - the White Stripes' Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, We're Going to be Friends, a rocking Hardest Button to Button and a sped-up, ultra countrified Hotel Yorba.

He also played a few songs from his other, other band The Raconteurs and an EXTREMELY hot version of Blue Blood Blues by his other, other, other band The Dead Weather, which is in the running for a new award: The Song That Most Makes Me Want To Do Dirty Things As Soon As I Hear It Award. This video (not from last night) should explain why:

As if it couldn't get hotter than that, Jack busted out a fully pumped-up-rock-and-roll-on-steroids version of The White Stripes' Ball and Biscuit to finish in ball-tearing style. Given Ball and Biscuit is already one of the sexiest songs of all time, when you pump it full of dexys and then turn the testosterone level up to 11, you have a song that makes me do this:

This was the sexiest gif I could find. Sorry.

So there I was - the lights back on, Jack and his band gone, and me stuck in the middle of a sweaty crowd licking my lips and thinking sinful thoughts and wondering what I could do with myself that wouldn't get me arrested.

AND THEN, ALL OF A SUDDEN - the lights dropped, the curtains along the SIDE of the auditorium parted, and there was Jack and his other, all-male band, ready to kick a surprise encore on a second stage that had previously been the VIP seating area.

The entire room went spastic. The whole crowd turned to the right and rushed the new, previously hidden stage on which bewildered and formerly seated VIP guests were now being shooed to the sides by security, as Jack fired up his guitar for the most balls-to-the-wall rock set I have ever seen IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Ever since I first saw the White Stripes live at the Big Day Out in 2006 I have wanted to see Jack White perform Black Math, from the album Elephant. This is because it is an arse-tearingly good rock song, and one of my all-time favourites that I like to blast on repeat for up to 12 hours at a time.


It was kind of like this.

Could it get any better? Yes, it could. Next was another of my favourite songs, The Dead Weather's I Cut Like A Buffalo, a souped-up rock and hip-hop hybrid of a song drenched in Wurlitzer and crunchy guitar, and then The White Stripes' version of Catch Hell Blues

At this point I was moshing like a freak and covered in so much sweat I swear I was shaking droplets on people next to me. Sorry about that, people.

"IF YOU'RE GETTIN' TRICKY LYIN' TO YOURSELF YOU'RE GONNA CATCH HELL!" he wailed, as I tried not to faint from water loss and rock-god exposure and thought "ARE YOU KIDDING ME, JACK? MARRY ME GOD DAMMIT."

Just as I was wondering if the concert was going to go on forever, a notion I would not have been at all disappointed with, Jack got the room clapping a beat - and like a single, buzzing hive-mind, we all knew what to do.

"NA NA-NA-NA NA-NA, NAAAAAAAA," we chanted, which you of course recognise is the riff from Seven Nation Army

With the entire sold-out room chanting like a soccer crowd at the World Cup, Jack played and sang over the top and, WOW. I thought I was sick of that song but this totally reinvented it, reminded me why we all loved it so much in the first place.

And with a quick "Goodnight and thank you", he was gone.

In a word: Incredible.

In a few more words: One of the best, most energetic, joyful, surprising and generous performances I've ever seen anyone give ever. Jack White is sex AND talent, he clearly respects his fans and he can't be topped.


Expect another hysterical post in August...


POST SCRIPT: This magical unicorn of a concert was almost entirely ruined by two total arseholes next to me who insisted on talking all the way through it, and refused to shut up despite being asked to by THREE people (including me). This douchebaggery, and the ensuing thoughts of violence and murderous rage it inspired in me, will be the subject of a subsequent post. But as a small preview, they looked like this

I typed "douchebag couple" into Google images and this is what I got, and I SWEAR it looks EXACTLY like them.


  1. Best. Concert review. EVER.

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  2. Thanks Janice! :) (I'm still getting over the show, 2 days later. AMAZING.)

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