Jack White – review

For his first solo tour, the former White Stripe approaches his back catalogue with the formidable intensity of his old band

Anyone who ever questioned exactly what Meg White brought to the White Stripes, who split up last year, should note that it takes six people to replace her. Well, a dozen really, because Jack White has enlisted a male and a female lineup for his first solo tour, alternating them from night to night in an admirable gesture of artistic bloodymindedness over financial good sense. Tonight we get the distaff edition, corralling White in a silvery semi-circle, like the sirens in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The contrast with the White Stripes' minimalist symmetry is clear before they've played a single note.

Nonetheless, a more cautious man, embarking on a solo career, might skirt the shadow of his old band's material and stick to his warmly received new album, but White finesses the highlights of his back catalogue (including songs he recorded with the Raconteurs and Danger Mouse) into expansive new arrangements. Sometimes it's an uneasy transition: We're Going to Be Friends squanders its kindergarten simplicity and a Nashvillised Hotel Yorba sounds uncomfortably like Cotton Eyed Joe, the 90s novelty hit by Swedish techno hillbillies Rednex. More often the switch from caged ferocity to psychedelic country-rock is dazzlingly assured thanks to the terrific band. Pianist Brooke Waggoner reaches a hammering peak on the baroque hysteria of They Weep Themselves to Sleep, while violinist Lillie Mae Rische plays with the same dark, insinuating drama that Scarlet Rivera brought to Bob Dylan's Desire.

Dressed in black, White is more effusive in the gaps than he used to be but he approaches the songs with the same formidable intensity, as if there were some piece of vital information lodged inside each one and he needs to shake it out of them. He demands focus from the audience, too, insisting they refrain from taking photographs. It's a rare treat to see a show without having to peer through a forest of glowing phones.

White is generous towards his band, attending to each member in turn like a conscientious polygamist. He duels with Rische on the Raconteurs' Top Yourself and addresses My Doorbell to backing singer Ruby Amanfu with a heated urgency which suggests that if she doesn't ring his doorbell imminently then he might suffer a biological mishap. The penultimate song, before a calming finale of Lead Belly's folk lullaby Goodnight Irene, is Seven Nation Army. As the crowd roars the bassline, White closes in on drummer Carla Azar, playing as if there were nobody else on stage. It's the sole visual echo of White's old band in a bravura performance that marks a spectacular creative rebirth.

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Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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