Jack White; Santigold – review

Forum; Heaven; both London

There are rarely any oversights in the camp of Jack White – control freak, guitar hero and rock's most assiduous colour coder. But tonight, as he makes his live return to London with a new album, the shade of blue on the upstairs wristbands is not quite right. It is too dark.

Onstage, by contrast, there is a hemisphere of six women, all wearing shades of powder blue. White is in black, front and centre. There are three powder-blue lines on the back-drop. The stripes nod both at the Stripes (his old band) and to White's business name, Third Man Records (formerly Third Man Upholstery). Fans have long assumed that the Third Man reference was one to Orson Welles. But on Later… With Jools Holland last week – the night after White's triumphant show – he revealed that, long before his guitar skills and visual flair reignited blues-rock, he was merely the third upholsterer on his block in Detroit.

The shade of the wristbands is possibly the only thing amiss on this debut solo outing in London. Well, a cymbal falls off at one point. And the density of instrumentation – keys, pedal steel, fiddle, an actual bass – is still a shock to anyone who has loved the White Stripes for their starkness. The face-offs between White and fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische are a little forced, because of their comic height differential. None of this detracts from the night's pleasures, however.

To keep everyone guessing, the instruments remain covered up until the last minute, lest anyone figure out which band – the all-boy outfit, or the all-girl, both of which have come out on tour, presumably at great expense – is going to play. White apparently makes the choice at breakfast.

Cameraphones are discouraged, meaning everyone pays attention. The set ranges far and wide across White's works, from his newest album, the cracking Blunderbuss, through tracks from Dead Weather and his Danger Mouse collaboration.

A White Stripes favourite, "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground", ignites the set, beefed up from its skimpy origins (just guitar and drums). It takes six people to replace former drummer Meg White; her direct substitute, Carla Azar, has a ramrod-straight back and a taut style. Keys player Brooke Waggoner is a revelation too on the standout piano track from Blunderbuss, "Weep Themselves to Sleep". White has been called out recently in a piece for the Atlantic for the misogyny of the lyrics on Blunderbuss, and his controlling nature offstage. But he is one of the few alpha male stars who consistently works with female musicians. The author of the grouchy "Freedom at 21" – women shouldn't have two phones, apparently – is at least a keen equal opportunities employer.

Across town, another White (no relation) is making her own triumphant return. Four years ago, Santi White emerged as an achingly hip electronic pop contender under the name of Santogold. She was forced to change it to Santigold by Santo Gold, a jeweller-cum-director of a wrestling movie. These four years have stretched out for other reasons – label disputes, errant producers, writer's block – and it feels as though White might have squandered her early lead to Azealia Banks.

Tonight's blast through her new album – Master of My Make Believe – makes you wish Santigold was as famous as Lady Gaga. Certainly, her visual flair is tremendous, with neo-African prints dominating three costume changes. The three boys in the band look like a cross between chefs and chickens; at one point, for "Hold the Line" (a great track White recorded with Major Lazer in 2009), two of them reappear as a pantomime horse (white, of course). The singer herself is flanked throughout by a pair of dancers, who combine the deadpan discipline of Public Enemy's body-popping bodyguards, S1W , with the filthy rump-shaking of ragga video honeys.

The music, though, suffers slightly from a muddy sound mix; you wish they would turn White up. Her versatile voice – clear and clean on what sounds like a long-lost 80s mega-hit, "The Keepers"; sassy and sing-song elsewhere – is occasionally lost in the wobble and strafe of the electronics.

Back in '08, White made her name with "Creator", a stark electro track that tonight sees a dozen giddy fans dragged onstage for a grind. There isn't anything quite like it on Master of My Make-Believe, an eclectic album whose ambitions have, perhaps, shifted more towards the cooler end of pop. It has, though, another bona fide killer cut in "Disparate Youth", a thrill from its catgut keyboard line to its sultry chanted chorus. Even when White is at her most underground, with juddering bass and rhythmic vocals replacing melody, this small club show feels like something far more bold and ambitious.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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