Jack White – Brighton Centre – 16th October 2018

This was a gig with a difference. There would be no mobile phones allowed within the auditorium. If you wanted to come to the show, you would need to dispatch your phone within a Yondr pouch. If necessary you could then use your phone in designated areas within the centre. An interesting idea, whose time has come. Whether it affected sales, it’s hard to say, but tonight was not completely sold out. Of course, it used to be the case that filming and picture taking were not allowed in venues as a whole, except with the express written consent of the organisers/artists. Most of us here could remember such a time, and I suspect a fair few were quite happy to be forcibly excluded from using it.

Did it make for a better show, though? Almost certainly not. After all, there were bars you could head to if things were getting a bit much. For all his energy, patent love of all things music, and his reputation, tonight’s sound is a disappointment, made immediately apparent by the use of Artie Shaw’s mildly foreboding jazz tune ‘Night and Day’ as the walk-on theme. Concealing the crisp production and bouncing grooves of some of his recent album, Boarding House Reach, such as lead track ‘Over and Over and Over’, which he starts the show with, followed by the groovy bongos, staccato keys, and 70s funk of ‘Corporation’, both tracks become a bit lost amidst the booming sound. Alongside White’s penchant for pushing things a little too hard at times, his guitar generally crazy wild and loud, his voice tended to veer towards the unsubtle Screamin’ Jay Hawkins end of the spectrum. It’s great and exciting in doses, but it really helps if you have the sound to go with it.

After the initial musical maelstrom, White and his five-piece band foray into his back catalogue, switching up styles here and there, Jack constantly changing guitars. Such as on the heavy blues-rock dirge of early song ‘Cannon’, the old world country-folk, with added honky-tonk piano spice, of ‘Hotel Yorba’, De Stijl’s ‘Hello Operator’ and the hard blues of ‘Little Bird’. There’s also The Dead Weather 60s garage rock of ‘I Cut Like A Buffalo’, White Blood Cells epic ‘Same Boy You’ve Always Known’, and Icky Thump’s ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)’, as well as the now iconic ‘Seven Nation Army’.

What is part of his on-going appeal – as well as losing a few fans of White Stripes’ raw guitar and drums template – is his desire for change, and experimentation, and of course his enthusiasm, which shows no sign of abating. Boarding House Reach is full of that, everything performed from that album, illustrating the distance he has come since jacking in The White Stripes. There’s the camp drama of the rather ridiculous ‘Why Walk A Dog?’, an attempt at rapping on ‘What’s Done Is Done’, and more camp drama within the sweet lullaby of ‘Humoresque’, surely a pitch for some kind of Mary Poppins-style family friendly film of the future. There’s also the maniacal space-funk rock of ‘Respect Commander’, a sped up version of his earlier garage rock dirges, before it slows right down, back into vintage Stripes territory. All interesting stuff. He even throws in a new song written just three days ago. However, when he performs a couple of Raconteurs tunes – ‘Steady As She Goes’, and ‘Carolina Drama’ – it’s somewhat of a relief to hear a couple of classic rockers that don’t involve getting too excited with the guitar pyrotechnics, instead riding along their exquisite melodies. The good news is The Raconteurs will be back in action soon, and White will be among them.

Jeff Hemmings

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