Touring ‘solo’ to give a healthy taste of his first ‘solo’ album, Blunderbuss, and the new one Lazaretto, Jack White offered his fans an interesting taste of a whole studied persona. At times, a calculating pop denizen up there with the eclectic likes of Beck, Prince and Todd Rundgren, White has also assiduously cultivated a more American roots tradition playing the mountain music of his West Virginian forebears and finally a kind of punk pop in the Detroit rock tradition of MC5 and Iggy & the Stooges. If the title of Jack’s first solo album, suggests a laissez-faire kind of buckshot-blast approach to American music rather than something simply deft and hook-laden, it’s, umm, kinda-sorta true. With Jack White, really, all bets are off!

Loosy-goosy and sharp as a razor, White was brilliant for two sold-out nights in a row at the Chicago Theater on July 22nd and 23rd (with another gig at the Auditorium Theatre on the Thursday). Mostly poker-faced and sincere, White dedicated his 29-song, two-hour and 55-minute show to “My Chicago institutions of inspiration, Muddy Waters and Chess Records.”  Indeed, his 50-minute pulsating blues and country-whacked encore blew everybody away.

Music: Jack White Live at the Chicago Theatre

Dancing, bobbing, weaving in a kind of puppet-yanked-on-a-string manner, White was all over the stage, his indigo-black tresses up and dancing, too. Everything changing from familiar chord progressions into snake-charming, space-boogie overdrive pyrotechnics, metallic punk-funk suddenly turning gospel, twanged-out hillbilly into kiddy ditties before funky Hammond B3 transmogrified from Jimmy Smith-type preaching blues into something that resembled Floyd’s Be Careful With That Axe, Eugene.

At the head of a five-piece band, White let the extemporaneous vibe rule, spontaneous scattershot and utterly jagged guitar solos made you ponder whether this was slicker than we realized or whether he was making it up moment to precious moment. Nothing sounded even close to its original, which was totally refreshing. The songs were rarely played like perfect copies of their recordings. Not everything worked in its disassembled reconstituted state, to be sure, but it was all very enervating and fresh.

Music: Jack White Live at the Chicago Theatre

Keeping many of the White Stripes songs minus his ex-wife, drummer Meg, was painful to some of the fans who watched the show with me. Moans greeted most White Stripes ‘rehabs.’ The old rapport may not be there with the new band, but White does what he wants.

It’s no knock on White to say he may never quite achieve what he once did with his former wife, drummer Meg White, in the White Stripes. Yet songs like Hotel Yorba, We’re Going to be Friends, the BOC-like riffing on Seven Nation Army and Icky Thump had the head-banging crowd going berserk. What was really juicy for me, however, was the twangy spaghetti-western vibe of The Rose With the Broken Neck, which seemed like it should have been on the soundtrack to Django Unchained. There was even a tribute to Jimi Hendrix through Manic Depression and a frantic, stuttering Catfish Blues. All superb stuff!

His superb band, led with panache by drummer Daru Jones never put a studied foot wrong. A perfect mixture of the raw and the cooked, the band’s doubled-up fiddles traded often exquisite licks with White’s guitar. With some muscular Hammond B3 and lap steel guitar, White found an always interesting chemical groove. Definitely one of the better shows of the year!

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