Jack White III and Me

I love Jack White III. I’m not his biggest fan, I don’t hang on his every riff, I don’t gobble up his every track, production and side project, but I love him.

I say all this because the Lovely Janine and I saw him (and his all-boy band) on Thursday night last week at the Brixton Academy. I had a slightly odd reaction to the gig – I did enjoy it but found it a bit noisy and chaotic and I thought that some of the versions of the songs weren’t as good as their recorded counterparts. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days, so I thought I’d share these thoughts with you. Aren’t I thoughtful?

I first became aware of Jack White (I’ll drop the III from now on if you don’t mind – no sense being so formal) when someone gave me a copy of the mighty Elephant LP by his band The White Stripes. Unless you’ve been living under a stone since 2003, you’ll know the LP, or at least some of the songs. Bluesy, clever, loud, intricate, mesmerising and full of idiosyncrasies, it was recorded in London, using old equipment and without the use of computers (a recurring theme in the White Stripes universe), and was extremely successful and well received by critics and fans. It has aged well – I’m listening to it again at the moment – and is rightly regarded as something of a classic. For me, it helped get me back into guitar music again, after many years of being addicted to electronica. Ball and Biscuit is still my favourite track from the LP, although I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and Seven Nation Army run it close.

That might have been where I left Jack White if it hadn’t been for the Lovely Janine – who is a proper fan. She began to follow his career with some interest. She collected the older White Stripes LPs and, when the side projects began to take shape as the White Stripes came to a close, it was her who bought the albums and took me to the gigs.

I think the first gig featuring Jack (I think I’ll drop the White now too, it might seem over-familiar but I don’t think he’ll ever read this and be offended) that I saw was The Raconteurs at Bristol’s Colston Hall. It was shortly after their rather good first LP – Broken Boy Soldiers – was released and they actually didn’t have all that many songs. Jack filled the gaps with lots of wailing guitar solos and long improvisations which drove me to absolute distraction. The LP was good because it was solid and basic and no-frills, and the live noodling was absolute anathema to me.

Thank goodness then for the White Stripes headline set at the Leeds leg of the Wireless Festival in 2007. We braved the rain which plagued the day and the resultingly lacklustre support set from the Queens of the Stone Age and were rewarded by a break in the rain and a masterclass in stripped-back, bluesy rock from Jack and Meg. I think it was Meg’s primitive drumming, and Jack’s need to provide everything else (leaving less time for self-indulgent noodling) that made it so spectacular. The two of them filled the stage in a way that the 5 members of QOTSA had utterly failed to do an hour before, and it was absolutely amazing.

The second Raconteurs LP – Consolers of the Lonely – was as good as the first, nice and solid and relatively free of epic noodling. But this wasn’t enough for Big J (as I like to call him) and he formed yet another band called The Dead Weather with the lead singer of the Kills and released two LPs – Horehound and Sea of Cowards which I am not too fussed about. We saw the Dead Weather play at the O2 Academy in Bristol and they were OK. Jack was on drums for most of the night, although he did play lead guitar on a couple of tracks, causing the audience to go a little bit mental. Personally my night was made by The Creature with the Atom Brain who supported. They are a metal band from Belgium with beards and riffs and a whole pile of awesome.

So, given my varying reactions to J-Dubya’s (last one, promise) live shows and side-projects, why have I felt the need to write so much? Well, I think the music world needs more people like Jack White III. He’s eccentric, obsessed with the number 3, makes his roadies wear nice suits and trilby hats, has two complete bands (one male, one female) on his current tour and only decides which one he will play with on the day of the show, understands the role of story, image and performance in presenting his music, is obsessed with old technology, is slightly pompous but also quite aware of his own pomposity (look at the scathing quote from a bad review proudly posted across his website). He’s a genius, a showman, a historian, a focal point for other astonishing musicians and, when all’s said and done, an excellent songwriter.

Oh, and just a quick mention for his vinyl fetish! He runs Third Man Records, which has been instrumental in keeping vinyl alive outside the dance music scene (vinyl sales are increasing again at last, while CD sales keep falling). They have a long running series of excellent 7″ singles featuring artists as diverse as Seasick Steve, Laura Marling and Tom Jones. They play with the format, releasing coloured vinyl, vinyl with CDs pressed inside and even a vinyl record containing a coloured liquid in the centre which squidges around and makes beautiful patterns. He understands that vinyl feels good, looks good and, most importantly, sounds better.

So that’s why I love Jack White III so much. If you’ll excuse me now, I’m off to listen to Elephant again at speaker-damaging volume.

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