On Monday 17th November 2014, I sat and watched as living proof of the colossal power of rock n roll was demonstrated in front of me and 13,000 other people at the First Direct arena in Leeds, when Jack White took to the stage with his band and smashed their way through a string of his biggest and best from the past 14 years of making music. There were plenty of White stripes hits, Raconteurs numbers and of course, music from his debut solo album, and recently released second album ‘Lazaretto’.
Warmed up nicely by Brooklyn based five piece Lucius, fronted by the almost identical, but definitely not twins, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. A complete discovery for me personally, and an enjoyable one at that. At first these guys creeped me out with their identical look and duel use of the same microphone, but as their set continued, each song was better than the last, and I became more of a fan until the end of their set at which point I looked forward to buying as much of their music as I could as soon as I got back to Lincoln.
After a short break and an announcement by one of Jack’s team requesting that as little as possible amateur photography be carried out during the gig, to which I completely agreed. I didn’t spend £35 on this night to watch the back of some pricks iPad and I won’t be forking out for that, anytime soon. The lights go down, and the curtains open, and Jack White tears onto the stage like a man possessed, grabs the guitar and proceeds to make the most hellish, distorted sounds until ripping into an instrumental from his new album called ‘High Ball Stepper’. In a recent review of his second solo album on Mojo20.com, I mentioned this instrumental and said how normally they act as filler, whereas this track seemed to add a lot to the proceedings, and it had a place on the album. Finding out now, that he’s using it to open his set makes even more sense and was the perfect way to do so. Following that, we hear ‘Lazaretto’ begin and his big single from earlier this year has the expected effect on the crowd. They were lively and ready to go for this huge concert, and for a Monday night, it was even more impressive. Next up comes his first venture into the White stripes back catalogue as ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’ gets the crowd singing, and keeps the guitars heavy and fast paced as we reach our third song in. The audience are only getting more energetic with every song and it really doesn’t slow down for the rest of the night. Only really slowing down, and as announced so by Jack White, Blunderbuss, the title track from his first solo album is really the only down tempo effort of the night. The rest is hard-hitting, gritty and performed to a higher standard than even the produced versions. All the songs are catered nicely for a live performance, teasing the crowd often with pensive pauses as he stares us all out before driving back into one of his famous riffs, and even his banter (god I hate to use that word) with the fans was funny, on point, a little bit obscure sometimes but effective all the same.
Other highlights included ‘Temporary Ground’ from the new album, ‘Love Interruption’, an over the top and drawn out version of the Raconteurs tune ‘Top Yourself’ and most of all an incredible performance of the White stripes classic ‘Hotel Yorba’, which with his incredibly accomplished band behind him, makes the original sound like a demo, and the live version sound like the song it always should have been. With an amazing slide solo, and violins that have never featured on the track before, it was definitely the big song of the night, especially as he more than once handed things over to the crowd to fill in the vocals which were of course sang back to him with pleasure.
The encore kicked off with ‘Icky Thump’, featured the new single ‘Would You Fight For My Love?’ and culminated of course in the legendary ‘Seven Nation Army. Which funnily enough, during the entire interlude between main set and encore was chanted loudly by the audience until Jack finally returned to the stage. The arena was electric as it gained closer and closer towards the end of the show, and when he kicked into ‘Catch Hell Blues’ from The White Stripes album ‘Icky Thump’, at first there was a loud buzz from everyone in attendance as they mistook the initial riff for ‘Seven Nation Army’, but after a couple of minutes, Jack White paused, counted in, and that all too familiar riff that will go down in history as one of the most recognisable ever along with the likes of ‘Satisfaction’ by The Rolling stones, ‘Layla’ by Eric Clapton and many others, kicked in and the whole place exploded. Where the crowd had been excitable all night, a full on mosh pit kicked off at the front, and where they had previously sang along to the lyrics, they now yelled the riff. The night came to an end, the band came together to take a bow, Mr White said his thank you’s and we all went home happy.
Certainly a performer that has to be seen at least once in a lifetime, and a back catalogue that promises an incredible evening, and the delivery of every single song played throughout the night is exactly the reason why I left, believing in rock n roll more than I ever have.
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)