* – This handflip. It makes the crowd go wild.
Leave it to Jack White to capitalize on an exquisitely painful tension at just the moment when it couldn’t really grow any more tense. He left the stage from his main set relatively early (after only an hour or so) and then *stayed* off stage for a solid ten minutes. He knew we wouldn’t stop clapping until he came out, so he just let us cheer, yell, scream, and chant for probably twice as long as most artists would at this point in the show. I’ve known some performers to leave the stage only to come back out within less a minute or so, and say “screw the formality and pretense – what songs do you want to hear?” and play a couple of requests, then bow, wave, and bring the lights up.
Not Jack White. No, Jack White makes you beg for it. He wants you to want it, and he’ll come back on stage when he’s damn well good and ready. Fortunately for us, he came back completely recharged and fired up after a more loping, rambling finish to the main set. His band retook their positions quickly, after which he basically sprinted to the front mic to spit out a ridiculously punk and in-your-face version of “Fell In Love With a Girl” which totally put me over edge (again with the spontaneous exclamations and jumping). It’s not the White Stripes song I ever cue up at home or anywhere else, but there’s something about hearing a song that been culturally everywhere since I was 18, and witnessing it done with such unbridled power that was just incredible.
The rest of the extended encore (8-9 songs, depending on how you count) featured quite a few more Lazaretto and Blunderbuss tunes, basically without much of a break between any of them. For “Three Women,” the first track from Lazaretto, Jack took a seat at the keys for the first and only time all night. He eventually stood up while banging out the outro, but stopped just short of what I thought might become a total Jerry Lee Lewis schtick, with feet on the piano and whatnot. Jack was animated, but not quite to that level, which actually brought a sense of well-harnessed professional energy that I appreciated. (Not that I wouldn’t have really minded seeing him kick out the bench and dance on the keys).
After four or five songs, the bass kick started in on a *thump* *thump* *thump* *thump* rhythm that I knew right away to be the structure and lead-in to Seven Nation Army, which I figured would be his closer – which it definitely was. That was predictable, but it was not predictable at all that the initial thump-thumps would just be tease, and it would take another 20 minutes or so before they broke into the final act.
The medley began during “Would You Fight for My Love?” which was the only time they used a set of perfectly moody dark purple and pink light filters – and then moved effortlessly into “The Hardest Button to Button” and “Love Interruption” (when the thumps briefly stopped), all the while hinting that “Army” was just around the corner, but never revealing just how far into the that future the corner really was.
After an intimate performance of “Love Interruption” the thumps came back, soon followed by the trademark “ohh… oh OH ho ho ohh-ohhhhh” of “Seven Nation Army” and an absolutely frenzied chorus complete with crowding moshing, head-banging and flood lights galore. Jack wailed, each member of the band got their moment in the spotlight, and then Jack brought it home with a final electric punch, right next to the drum kit – a seeming shout-out to his more simplistic days with Meg.
In his departing words, he was at once genuine, self-congratulatory, and eccentrically opaque. “God bless you. Thank you, everyone. You’ve been incredible. I’ve been Jack White.”
* * *
Last summer I saw Robert Plant at the Waterfront Blues Fest with my friend Jacob, a fan of folk music since birth and die-hard fan of Cat Stevens, and modern-day star performers in their own right such as Lambchop, Bill Morrissey, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy. After the show we were walking around Downtown Portland in a happy daze, reliving Plant’s bravado, his voice, the way he kicked the mic stand aside – the general mastery of his craft. As the sun set over the Willamette and we made our way back to the MAX train, Jacob said “I’ve just never seen anything like that.” At the time, neither had I. Now, I think I have.